Lithium study helps scientists unlock ageing puzzle

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A common drug could hold the key to long life, in flies at least, according to research.

At low doses, lithium prolonged the life of fruit flies in lab experiments.

Scientists say the finding is “encouraging” and could eventually lead to new drugs to help people live longer and healthier lives.

Lithium is used in psychiatry to help stop mood swings but has a risk of serious side-effects at high doses.

How lithium acts on the brain is not fully understood, but in fruit flies the drug seems to extend life by blocking a chemical known as GSK-3.

“The response we’ve seen in flies to low doses of lithium is very encouraging and our next step is to look at targeting GSK-3 in more complex animals with the aim of eventually developing a drug regime to test in humans,” said Prof Linda Partridge of the UCL Institute of Healthy Ageing, who led the study.

The research, published in Cell Reports, found fruit flies lived 16% longer than average when given low doses of lithium.

At high doses, lithium reduced their lifespan.

“We found low doses not only prolong life but also shield the body from stress and block fat production for flies on a high sugar diet,” said co-researcher Dr Ivana Bjedov from the UCL Cancer Institute.

 

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