A group of scientists is developing a treatment to combat the "disease" of ageing. They aim to keep people younger for longer by studying fruit flies, which share 60 per cent of human genes and age in remarkably similar ways.
The Institute of Health Ageing at University College London is studying genetics and lifestyle factors, particularly diet, to develop treatments to combat ageing. It is displaying its research as part of this year's Royal Society Summer Science Exhibition, which starts today.
The show reveals a range of fresh research to the public from some of Britain's finest scientific minds.
Matthew Piper, one of the key members of the team working at the institute, said: "If we discover the genes involved with ageing, we should be able to delay ageing itself. This is what we've found."
The scientists have been using modified diets and drug treatments to prolong healthy lifespan in flies and mice. They say the results indicate such treatments might have beneficial effects for humans. However, the field, which is only 10 years old, is "all theoretical at the moment", Dr Piper added. "There is no timeline on when it could be used for humans."
The team contend the treatments will also tackle age-related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurodegeneration.
Dr Piper said: "We take the novel approach of viewing these chronic illnesses as being symptoms of a common underlying problem: ageing itself. If ageing can be treated, can we offset the diseases that come with it? It's not just about living longer, it's about living healthy."
The research is carried out studying yeast, worms and flies. Fruit flies age in a similar way to humans. "It's very easy to spot how old flies react. They fall over a lot. They don't walk as fast, they eat less, their memory declines as does their sex drive. These are all associated with human ageing," Dr Piper said.
The scientists have successfully extended the life of organisms in the lab by mutating single genes and have shown they can lessen the effects of a mutation which can cause Alzheimer's. Another way to extend life is to target the diet. Dr Piper said: "If you reduce the diet of a rat by 40 per cent it will live for 20 or 30 per cent longer. So we would be talking 20 years of human life. This has shown on all sorts of organisms, even labradors."
Another Royal Society exhibit will explain how facial features are determined by genetic make-up and why a child may have a nose like their father or mouth like their mother. A team from the University of Leicester is also studying genetics to see if some smokers are predisposed to a higher level of lung disease.
The exhibits include the dynamics of avalanches; studies of undiagnosed cardiac conditions; the science of laughing; and genetically modifying mosquitos. There is even a team of robots designed to play football.