July 31, 2013
Fountain Of Youth May Be Sitting In Your Medicine Cabinet
Brett Smith for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
According to a new study from researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the commonly prescribed diabetes drug metformin has been shown to extend the lifespan of laboratory mice when given at a certain dosage.
The researchers initially decided to investigate metformin because previous studies have shown that it can diminish a variety of age-related conditions.
"Aging is a driving force behind metabolic syndrome and diabetes," said study co-author Rafael de Cabo, a researcher with the NIH's National Institute on Aging. "Given that metformin is clinically proven to alleviate symptoms of these conditions, and reduce risk of cancer, we thought perhaps it was a good candidate to study for its broader effects on health and lifespan."
The researchers also performed a series of tests on the different groups of mice to determine any health benefits. The low-dosage group exhibited better overall fitness and weighed less than the control group, despite eating more calories, as metformin increased their fat use. Mice on the drug also tended to maintain their body weight as they got older. They were also less likely to develop cataracts, a common problem among the species of mice used in the study.
As expected, metformin halted the onset of pre-diabetic and cardiovascular factors. When metformin-treated mice were tested at around two years old, they showed reductions in insulin, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and other risk-related biomarkers.
Researchers noted that the drug had effects similar to a low-calorie diet intervention seen to extend life in previous animal studies. Both metformin and calorie restriction were shown to affect genes in the liver and muscles, which induced longevity-associated metabolic activity.
The latest study adds to a growing body of evidence supporting the benefits of metformin. Other recently published studies have shown that the drug can be effective in treating cancers, slowing mental decline and preventing patients with pre-diabetic conditions from progressing into full-blown diabetes.
Despite the study's encouraging results, the scientists emphasized that healthy people should not start a metformin regimen since more research needs to be conducted. However, deCabo told USA Today's Karen Weintraub that his team's work could be a first step toward anti-aging medications that extend life.
"It's clear that we are edging toward developing a pharmaceutical intervention that is going to be able to delay or postpone aging," he said. "For how much and how long I have no idea."
"In terms of history, we're still at the very early stages of understanding how to slow aging in a safe way," said co-author David Sinclair, a genetics professor at Harvard Medical School.