A recent flurry of headlines has suggested the elusive fountain of youth lies in metformin—a widely used drug for diabetes.
Researchers are set to begin human trials for an anti-aging drug that could supposedly allow people to live well into their hundreds. The study, dubbed TAME (Targeting Aging with Metformin) is scheduled to begin human trials by 2016.
Recently, the team discovered that the drug could reliably extend the life of animals. Last year, a retrospective study that consisted of just over 180,000 people showed that diabetes patients treated with metformin lived longer than other diabetic patients and also lived longer than the healthy control sample. Now, the US Food and Drug Administration has given the green light for human trials to see if the effects can be replicated.
According to the study, cells contain a DNA blueprint that could theoretically keep the body functioning properly forever. However, human cells go through billions of divisions over the course of a lifetime, and as cells divide, errors creep in. These errors lower the cell's ability to repair itself. For instance, cancer prevents cells from getting rid of mutations that allow tumors to develop; or in the case of Alzheimer's, brain cells are unable to clear plaques that causes dementia.
“If you target an aging process and you slow down aging then you slow down all the diseases and pathology of aging as well,” Professor Gordon Lithgow of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in California, an advisor for the study, said in a press release. “That’s revolutionary. That’s never happened before.”
Fountain of Youth?
An acknowledgment from the FDA that aging is a disease has also never happened before, and the study's researchers believe it could be revelatory in and of itself. If we started looking at aging as a disease, we'd respond very differently to it.
120 years may seem like the stuff of science fiction, and it's important to note that anti-aging experts themselves have never made the claim.
“The perception is that we are all looking for a fountain of youth. We want to avoid that," noted Stephanie Lederman, executive director of the American Federation for Aging Research in New York. “What we’re trying to do is increase health span, not look for eternal life.”
It will take time for the novel drug to make it to the market with claims of anti-aging. But Lithgow remains hopeful. "20 years ago aging was a biological mystery. Now we are starting to understand what is going on," he continued. "There is every reason to believe it’s possible."
Should the tests prove to be successful, this drug could see seniors as old as 70 be as biologically healthy as a 50 year old and could see a future where the elderly wouldn’t have to battle conditions typically associated with old age, such as diabetes or dementia.
Dr Simon Melov of the Buck Institute for Ageing Research added: “You’re talking about developing a therapy for a biological phenomenon which is universal and gives rise to all of these diseases. And if you’ve got a therapy for this thing, these diseases just go away.”