Elixir Of Youth - Already Here?

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 Dr Bollmann, Skin Care Specialist, Anti-Aging Expert

Man has been seating for the "Fountain of Youth" for eons. The fat that we haven't found it doesn't mean there are things already here that can help, a so-called "modern day elixir".

Evidence is emerging that some widely used drugs can prolong lifespan for well people. Millions of people are taking anti-ageing drugs every day – they just don't know it. Drugs to slow ageing sound futuristic but they already exist in the form of relatively cheap medicines that have been used for other purposes for decades. 

What are the more common ones? Well, the statin drugs like Lipitor, and low dose Aspirin, taken to decrease the risk of heart disease, have been shown to increase life span in animals, and have anti-inflammatory effects - and inflammation is thought to be one of the things that causes aging. And Melatonin has been shown to increase longevity in mice to 300 human years. And these drugs are now dirt cheap, if one can take the generic statins. So these "elixirs" are already here. In addition, the most commonly used medicine for type 2 diabetes, metformin, also seems to extend the lifespan of many small animals, including mice, by around 5 per cent. 

Surprisingly, diabetics taking metformin were not only less likely to die in that time than those on the other medicine but they were also about 15 per cent less likely to die than people without diabetes who took neither drug. "This shows we already have a drug that we can potentially use in humans," says Nir Barzilai, who heads the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. 

"We are already treating ageing," said gerontologist Brian Kennedy at the International Symposium on Geroprotectors in Basel, Switzerland, last week, where the latest results were presented. "We have been doing ageing research all along but we didn't know it." 

Last year Google took its first steps into longevity research with the launch of Calico, an R&D firm that aims to use technology to understand lifespan. And even pharmaceutical companies look set to join in. \

Evidence is emerging that some existing drugs have modest effects on lifespan, giving an extra 10 years or so of life. "We can develop effective combinations for life extension right now using available drugs," says Mikhail Blagosklonny of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York. 

One of the most promising groups of drugs is based on a compound called rapamycin. It was first used to suppress the immune system in organ transplant recipients, then later found to extend lifespan in yeast and worms. In 2009, mice were added to the list when the drug was found to lengthen the animals lives by up to 14 per cent, even though they were started on the drug at 600 days old, the human equivalent of being about 60. 

This led to an explosion of research into whether other structurally similar compounds – called rapalogs – might be more potent. Now the first evidence has emerged of one such drug having an apparent anti-ageing effect in humans. A drug called everolimus, used to treat certain cancers, partially reversed the immune deterioration that normally occurs with age in a pilot trial in people over 65 years old. 

Immune system ageing is a major cause of disease and death. It is why older people are more susceptible to infections, and why they normally have a weaker response to vaccines.

That weak response, however, has proved useful for studying ageing, as it provides an easy read-out of immune system health. "In humans you can't do decades-long clinical trials," says Novartis researcher Joan Mannick. Instead, the company looked at a proxy that would quickly show results. 

They gave 218 people a six-week course of everolimus, followed by a regular flu vaccine after a two-week gap. Compared with those given a placebo, everolimus improved participants' immune response – as measured by the levels of antibodies in their blood – by more than 20 per cent, to two out of the three vaccine strains tested. 

The fact that common mechanisms seem to be behind the major diseases of ageing, like heart disease, stroke and dementia, is good news, as it suggests we should be able to extend our lifespan while also extending healthspan, according to many conference speakers. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine an effective longevity agent that worked without alleviating or delaying such conditions. Rapamycin, for instance, has been found to reduce the cognitive decline that accompanies ageing in animals. 

Nevertheless, the fact that anti-ageing prescription drugs are being developed at all is a measure of how far the longevity field has come, says Zhavoronkov. "It's the first time pharma has embraced ageing." 




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