An Anti-Aging Pill May (Soon) Be the Key to a Longer Life
Here’s a look at three of them.
The diabetes medication taken by millions has been under the anti-aging microscope for years, and experts say it remains a front-runner in the race toward a broad-purpose anti-disease drug. Studies show metformin has protective benefits against cardiovascular disease and may be able to reduce the risk of other age-related illnesses like cancer, dementia and stroke.
More recent research published in July in Aging Cell found the decades-old medication may also protect against loss of muscle in older adults. It’s a drug “that targets all the biological hallmarks of aging,” says Nir Barzilai, M.D., director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. “By the way, metformin is also safe, has few side effects, it’s generic, it’s cheap.”
Barzilai is in the process of launching a large, six-year clinical trial, called TAME, to test whether older adults taking metformin can escape, or at least delay, the development of age-related diseases. He hopes the 3,000-person study will also show that the aging process can be a target for drug development, which could help usher in other drug approvals.
“It’s [aging] that drives the diseases,” Barzilai says. “The idea is if you target aging, you prevent not one disease but a huge number of diseases.”
A lack of funding has slowed the study’s start. The estimated $50 million trial isn’t one that the pharmaceutical industry is eager to bankroll, since metformin is a generic drug that sells for mere cents a pill, says Richard Miller, an aging expert at the University of Michigan. Researchers are instead working off a patchwork of grants and donations. But those in the know predict the trial will be ready to go in a few years.
Rapamycin, discovered in the 1970s, is currently used to help prevent organ rejection after a kidney transplant and to treat certain types of cancer. In mice, Austad says, it does much more.
It has repeatedly been shown to help prevent cancer in rodents and slow down the progression of dementia. Researchers say it helps mice maintain their muscle, delays heart disease and improves vaccine response. A pivotal study found that the drug can extend the life of older mice by 14 percent for females and 9 percent for males by postponing disease; other studies have produced similar results.
The focus now is on humans and whether rapamycin will afford them the same disease-delaying benefits. A small number of early-phase human trials are underway. Dog trials, too — and those are the ones to pay attention to while we wait for more human data. “They are a much better indicator of what you might expect in people than mice,” Austad says.