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.
Google and Venter’s plans may have injected an over-hyped field with a measure of credibility but they are unlikely to bear fruit for some time. Yet 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.
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.
Nextbigfuture has been covering Rapamycin and Metformin for a few years
A big drawback to long-term use of rapamycin, however, is the increase in insulin resistance, observed in both humans and laboratory animals. Rapamycin, by contrast, allowed a buildup of fatty acids and eventually an increase in insulin resistance, which in humans can lead to diabetes. However, the drug metformin can address that concern, and is already given to some diabetic patients to increase lipid oxidation. In lab tests, the combined use of rapamycin and metformin prevented the unwanted side effect.
I have personally tried to ask doctors to allow metformin or rapamycin use but they will not prescribe it for off label purposes. However, some doctors are able to get it prescribed for themselves.
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.
Of the three everolimus doses tested, the highest caused fatigue and mouth ulcers, while two lower doses had no apparent ill effects.
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.
There have been no trials of metformin as a longevity drug in people, but a recent study hinted that it might have a similar effect.
Journal Diabetes, Obesity and Metabolism – Can people with type 2 diabetes live longer than those without? A comparison of mortality in people initiated with metformin or sulphonylurea monotherapy and matched, non-diabetic controls
They identified 78 241 subjects treated with metformin, 12 222 treated with sulphonylurea, and 90 463 matched subjects without diabetes. This resulted in a total, censored follow-up period of 503 384 years. There were 7498 deaths in total, representing unadjusted mortality rates of 14.4 and 15.2, and 50.9 and 28.7 deaths per 1000 person-years for metformin monotherapy and their matched controls, and sulphonylurea monotherapy and their matched controls, respectively. With reference to observed survival in diabetic patients initiated with metformin monotherapy [survival time ratio (STR) = 1.0], adjusted median survival time was 15% lower (STR = 0.85, 95% CI 0.81–0.90) in matched individuals without diabetes and 38% lower (0.62, 0.58–0.66) in diabetic patients treated with sulphonylurea monotherapy.
Patients with type 2 diabetes initiated with metformin monotherapy had longer survival than did matched, non-diabetic controls. Those treated with sulphonylurea had markedly reduced survival compared with both matched controls and those receiving metformin monotherapy. This supports the position of metformin as first-line therapy and implies that metformin may confer benefit in non-diabetes. Sulphonylurea remains a concern.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.