Researchers testing a number of different pharmaceutical drugs have found they can increase the lifespan of worms – and maybe humans, too.
The world, on average, is only getting older. Better access to healthcare is reducing mortality as well as our chances of succumbing to an injury or condition that once would have been a death sentence.
However, an ageing population comes with its own societal problems, putting greater pressure on healthcare systems struggling to cope with the detrimental effects of getting older. But what if we can find a way to get older but slow the effects of ageing?
While sounding like a science-fiction concept, a team of researchers has published findings in Developmental Cell which claim that a cocktail of existing pharmaceutical drugs could possibly allow humans to limit the onset of the effects of ageing.
The promising suggestion comes after the team found that giving the cocktail to microscopic worms increased their healthy lifespan and delayed the rate of ageing.
The team from Yale-NUS College in Singapore said they wanted to find out to what extent healthy lifespan could be extended by combining drugs targeting several pathways known to affect it. For example, the drug rapamycin is used in organ transplants to prevent host rejection, but other research showed it to extend the lifespan of worms, fruit flies and mice.
So the team, led by Dr Jan Gruber, administered combinations of two or three compounds targeting different ageing pathways to the worms. The results showed that two drug pairs in particular extended the mean lifespan of the worms more than each of the drugs individually and, in combination with a third compound, almost doubled mean lifespans.
Years free from Alzheimer’s disease
Crucially, the drug treatments had no adverse effects on the worms and, across all ages, the treated worms were healthier and spent a larger percentage of their already-extended lifespans in good health.
Speaking of what this would mean in humans, Gruber said: “We would benefit not only from having longer lives, but also spend more of those years free from age-related diseases like arthritis, cardiovascular disease, cancer, or Alzheimer’s disease.”
Gruber added: “These diseases currently require very expensive treatments, so the economic benefits of being healthier for longer would be enormous.”
The same drug cocktail was also tested in Drosophila melanogaster fruit flies by another Yale-NUS team and they too saw an extension of lifespan, suggesting that the biological mechanisms that regulate these drug interactions on ageing are ancient. This makes it more likely that similar interactions between ageing pathways could be targeted in humans.
The next stage of the research will be to determine the molecular and biological mechanisms behind the discovery. This will allow researchers to test thousands of combinations using computer modelling to create a drug combination safe for humans.