Metformin has been found to increase animals’ lifespan by nearly 50%. (Photo: Getty)
According to scientists, aging is not an inevitable part of life. A widely used and inexpensive drug that treats type 2 diabetes, Metformin, has proven to slow ageing in animals on a cellular level. Every living cell contains DNA that could theoretically keep the body functioning properly forever, but errors in natural human cell division keep the body from repairing damage as time goes on. Scientists took a tip from marine creatures, some of which have proven not to age at all, only growing bigger and not slowing or deteriorating with age. “If you target an aging process and you slow down aging then you slow down all the diseases and pathology of aging as well,” Gordon Lithgow, an aging research professional and study advisor, told Telegraph. “That’s revolutionary. That’s never happened before.”
Now, the theory will be tested for humans. The FDA has approved a trial of 3,000 US participants between 70 and 80 years old who have or risk developing cancer, heart disease, or dementia. If all goes well, 70 year olds will be as biologically healthy as 50 year olds and people will live in good health into their 110s and 120s. “Enough advancements in aging science have been made to lead us to believe it’s plausible, it’s possible,” Dr. Jay Olshansky says of the study in the National Geographic documentary Breakthrough: The Age of Aging. “It’s been done for other species and there is every reason to believe it could be done in us.” It is expected to bring in a new era of disease fighting, treating the underlying issue —aging — rather than individual conditions. Lithgow believes that this could have a bigger impact on extending population lifespan than finding a cure for cancer. Aging researcher Dr. Simon Melov adds, “You’re talking about developing a therapy for a biological phenomenon which is universal and gives rise to all of these diseases. And if you’ve got a therapy for this thing, these diseases just go away.”
But is it the fountain of youth? According to Stephanie Lederman, the executive director of the American Federation for Aging Research, it’s not. “What we’re trying to do is increase health span, not look for eternal life,” she says. In mice, lifespan was increased by nearly 40% and bones were strengthened. Likewise, a Cardiff University study last year found that diabetes patients treated with Metformin lived longer than others without the condition, even though their average lifespan was 8 years shorter. By increasing oxygen molecules released into a cell, the drug boosts robustness and longevity — and roundworms from a Belgian study didn’t develop wrinkles, hopefully that perk transfers over to humans too.