Researchers have discovered that a combination of pharmaceutical drugs can significantly extend the lifespan of Caenorhabditis elegans, a type of worm, as well as delay the rate at which they age. This result, published in the journal Developmental Cell, could one day be applied to humans. This intervention is ideal since it simply repurposes existing drugs.
While the goal is ambitious, the researchers are taking it seriously. To conduct their research, the international team used drugs already known to affect lifespan. One of these is rapamycin, a drug used to prevent the rejection of organs after a transplant.
Rapamycin has already been shown to extend the lifespan of worms, fruit flies, and even mice. The team used rapamycin together with another drug and noticed that this combination extended the lifespan of the worms more than each drug individually. A cocktail with a third drug almost doubled the worms' average lifespan. The effect is greater than that seen during previous attempts to use drugs to extend the lifespan of adult animals.
But it’s not just about living longer. Across all ages, the worms that received the cocktail were healthier and spent a larger portion of their extended lives in good health. The goal is now to extend the approach to mammals.
“If we can find a way to extend healthy lifespan and delay aging in people, we can counteract the detrimental effects of an aging population, providing countries not only medical and economic benefits, but also a better quality of life for their people,” senior author Dr Jan Gruber, from Yale-NUS College in Singapore, said in a statement. “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. These diseases currently require very expensive treatments, so the economic benefits of being healthier for longer would be enormous.”
The team collaborated with another research group who used a similar cocktail on fruit flies, with very similar results. Worms and fruit flies are very different so this could imply that aging mechanisms are similar in many animals. If this is the case, we might be able to apply this new approach to humans.
The next step for the researchers is to find interventions that work even more effectively than the one used in the study. The team would also like to find out exactly which biological mechanisms are affected by their drug cocktail, right down to the molecular level. This could help create a model of exactly what makes us age, allowing countermeasures to be designed using computers that create thousands of different compound combinations. This could also help the researchers work out if humans would see the same anti-aging results as the worms.