Could a diabetes drug really be the first life extension drug? And it’s been under our noses the whole time. What’s even more sweetly ironic is that sufferers of diabetes might be the first generation to live 15 years longer than the rest of us.
OK, I’ll back up a bit and get some real perspective on this news but it’s just too exciting. There are scientific virginities being taken all over the place with this latest news. Metformin – a drug which has been used with success to treat Type 2 Diabetes for years – is to become the first drug to be tested on humans for the ability to extend life/slow ageing (however you want to look at it). It’s also the first of it’s kind to move to full and comprehensive human trials so quickly.
In fact, the researchers think the first human trial involving 3000 people in their 70s will go on for 5 years. If significant results are achieved then watch out; century-long lifespans could be a regular thing. The FDA are uncharacteristically enthusiastic about it as well – perhaps there’s some old crones in the agency who pepped up a bit on hearing the potential!!
The only stumbling block at the moment is the $50 million funding they need but the scientists aren’t too bothered about this because they know it won’t be a tough sell to potential creditors.
They are also saying that depending on the outcome, it won’t be the elderly generation who benefit the most. Getting the meds in to the younger population will have an even larger impact later on in their life.
A Very Brief Intro to Life Extension
Life Extension or lifespan expansion has been viewed by pharmaceutical authorities as something like black magic would be by you or me.
The suggested methods haven’t exactly helped, with unenjoyable lifestyles like near-starvation (calorie restriction) diets and intense procedures such as gene modification leading the way. What’s the point in living longer if it’s miserable.
Also any potential drug trials are usually hampered by the negative side effects and thrown out before they even get out of the rat lab.
Metformin is different because it already has an abundance of safety data from the years of use as an anti-diabetic drug.
On top of this, the mild side effects of nausea and diarrhoea can be mitigated easily by gradual dose increase and taking it with meals.
How Might Metformin Extend Life?
It seems too good to be true, but the distinct lack of negative side-effects coupled with the dual benefits of anti-diabetes and lifespan expansion are exactly what the experts think this might be. And a 15% addition to life at that! Imagine what you could do with an extra decade or even 15 years before you get to the ‘old age’ part of life!
The exact mechanism by which Metformin might do this is unclear, because it acts on cells in many ways. However, the prevailing theory is one that links it to its already-proven anti-diabetic actions. The yway it works for Type 2 sufferers is by limiting the quantity of glucose manufactured by the liver.
This may actually – on a cellular level at least – be the same as calorie restriction without the discomfort of a restriction diet. When calories are restricted, animal (and human) cells switch to energy-saving mode, which down the line translates to longer lifespan. Like those energy-saver light bulbs!
What about Rapamycin?
Metformin is not the only drug with potential anti-ageing benefits. You may already have heard the word ‘rapamycin’ in the context of mTOR (or read about it in our mTOR article) and you’ll know that the mammalian target of rapamycin – mTOR – pathway is heavily involved in muscle growth and bone development.
The rather unimaginative name however indicates that mTOR is simply the receptor of rapamycin.
Rapamycin itself is used as an immune system suppressor drug for post organ transplant – so the organ in not rejected – but at lower doses it may also mimic the calorie restriction mechanism that Metformin seems likely to.
Everolimus by Novartis
Pharmaceutical mega company Novartis already have a promising drug called Everolimus which acts similarly to Rapamycin. It successfully increased elderly subjects’ response to a flu vaccine and in the meantime showed promise for slowing the decay of the human immune system with age.
There seems to be a snowball effect in the pharmaceutical industry at present with respect to anti-ageing drugs. It is exciting to see it being taken completely seriously for a change. Keep your ear to the ground for the next big breakthrough in this field.