A Scottish scientist at the forefront of research into ageing has claimed he can already prolong the life of lab animals and humans could also be drinking from the fountain of youth in future. Professor Gordon Lithgow, who works at the Buck Institute in northern California, features in New National Geographic series Breakthrough. It details the scientific work which is going on in America aimed at slowing the ageing process so people can live healthier for longer. Professor Lithgow, from Newarthill, near Motherwell, identifies agents which can extend lifespan or prevent age-related diseases. His work with microscopic worm Caenorhabditis elegans has discovered a range of factors which can lengthen life. He is one of a number of scientists featured in Breakthrough who are looking to move beyond treating individual diseases and instead treat the ageing process itself.
He says “I came into this field simply as a biologist, thinking aging is just a complete mystery and nobody knows why it happens at different rates in different animals but what has emerged is this deep relationship of what we think of as ageing, these changes that happen throughout life, and disease itself. A big change has been the notion that ageing is actually causing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s and cancer. “The statistic which is striking is that if we cured cancer, all cancers, tomorrow, on average, people would only live three years longer. It’s startling and frightening but it’s true and that’s because the ageing condition is causing all these different pathologies in different tissues and they all come along at the same time really.“There is an exponential increase in the incidence of disease with age so that I now realise I am working on disease. I never thought about that before, I had no interest in disease, no interest in humans, frankly, and then the profound shock this ageing process is causing all these chronic, fearful, painful conditions - and here’s the really amazing thing, on a daily basis in laboratory animals we are changing ageing, we can slow it down, we can postpone disease pathology, so in the lab we are manipulating this already in a way which tells you there is hope we can do this for people as well.”
While the research is exciting, Professor Lithgow says the work will not result in people living for hundreds of years but improve quality of life - and we can already help ourselves with our lifestyle choices.