The idea of a single pill or potion that lets you live forever may be limited the realm of science fiction, but thanks to medical research and improvements in quality of life humans have never lived longer. Now, with the help of a combination drug treatment, researchers are close to fully understanding the key pathways that control the ageing process.
A study at the Yale-NUS College in Singapore has found a cocktail of drugs that increases the lifespan of the worm Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans). The worms not only lived longer but were also healthier for longer, an important factor when looking at the economic strain on resources from an ageing population.
“Many countries in the world, including Singapore, are facing problems related to ageing populations,” said Dr Gruber via Science Daily. “If we can find a way to extend healthy lifespan and delay ageing in people, we can counteract the detrimental effects of an ageing population, providing countries not only medical and economic benefits, but also a better quality of life for their people.”
The drugs chosen for the treatment target a variety of biological functions known to affect lifespan. For example, Metformin is an antidiabetic medicine that lowers blood sugar but has also been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular episodes, cancers and delay the onset of chronic diseases.
Dr Gruber found that when one drug was administered there was little effect on life span. However, when two were taken together there was an improvement and when a cocktail of three were administered, mean life span doubled. No other study has had such positive results.
Importantly, the drugs did not appear to have any negative side effects on the worms’ health. In fact, the worms were healthier for a longer portion of their lives.
Pharmaceutical companies are also desperate to discover the secret to slowing ageing since it would be worth billions. It is estimated that by 2021, the global anti-ageing market will reach $331 billion. Not since the boom in weight loss medicine has the industry seen this type of growth.
Governments too are keen for this research to move forward. The average British life expectancy has risen from 71 years in 1970 to 81 years in 2016. Although this may seem like something to celebrate, the strain on the NHS from an ageing population is huge. A Lancet Public Health report last year found that between 2015 and 2025 there will be a 25 per cent increase in people requiring nursing care and cases of dementia will rise by 40 per cent.
Dr Gruber’s research may be in its early stages but he is hopeful that soon the knowledge gained will be transferable to humans. He said that the experiments are a “proof of principle” indicating that the idea of extending life span through drug intervention is possible.
Since the paper was published the research team have already pressed forward, now looking more closely at each drug in the cocktail. They want to know exactly how the drugs interact with the body as well as each other. This should provide new insight into pathways in the body which are key to slowing the ageing process and getting us as close as we’ve ever been to a real elixir of life.
Image Credit: Magnus Manske via Wikimedia Commons