Find out why some researchers think they've found the Fountain of Youth in a popular prescription pill used to treat diabetes
Curious as to what 2115 will be like? Will we have cured cancer? Will The Bachelor still be on? You might just be able to answer these questions yourself if the latest anti-aging research works out. Researchers from the American Federation for Aging Research recently announced they have a pill that could extend the human lifespan by 50 percent. And not only could we all live past the century mark, but those years would be healthy years, according to Nir Barzilai, M.D.
But the best part is this Fountain of Youth pill already exists: It's Metformin—a cheap, widely available drug that is mainly used to treat diabetes. A few years ago, scientists began to notice that the drug also seemed to prolong life in animals and regulate their blood sugar. A study published in Cell Cycle in 2008 also found that the meds increased the number of mice who survived, lengthened their lifespan by more than 60 percent, and decreased incidence of heart disease and cancer. The super rodents were as vigorous and healthy as those half their age.
But mice are one thing—does the drug have the same life-extending effect on humans? There aren't any official human studies yet, but thanks to its popularity as a diabetes drug, there have been unofficial "trials" going on with Metformin since the 1950s. And while the anecdotal data isn't as good as a rigorously controlled scientific analysis, a study of 180,000 people done by Cardiff University earlier this year found that diabetic patients on the drug lived longer and were healthier than their non-diabetic, non-medicated counterparts—an especially encouraging finding, since diabetes on its own is known to shorten lifespan by about eight years.
There will soon be better data too. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently approved the first human clinical trials of Metformin as an anti-aging drug, called Targeting Aging with Metformin, or TAME, and scheduled to start late 2016. Researchers will give Metformin to 3,000 people who already have cancer, heart disease, or cognitive impairment, or are at risk for these conditions. (Currently it is only approved to treat diabetes.) After several years, they will see if the meds helped delay or prevent any of those illnesses.
It's not yet known how exactly the drug helps. It appears the drug may extend lifespan by reducing the diseases that kill us most. But it may also work in the opposite direction: By extending lifespan, it reduces the risks of common diseases. "If you target an aging process and you slow down aging, then you slow down all the diseases and pathology of aging as well," explained study author Gordon Lithgow, Ph.D., of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in California.
"I have been doing research into aging for 25 years and the idea that we would be talking about a clinical trial in humans for an anti-aging drug would have been thought inconceivable," said Lithgow. "But there is every reason to believe it's possible. The future is taking the biology that we've now developed and applying it to humans."
But while we wait for that day to come, don't miss these Anti-Aging Solutions That Have Nothing to Do with Products or Surgery (or pills, for that matter).