Long Life and Health
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Have Scientists Found a Drug That Can Slow Aging?

The Fountain of Youth may have been found, not in some exotic hidden jungle, but in a science lab.

In recent years, biogerontologists at the University of Michigan Center for Aging Research have made significant strides toward unlocking the secret of longevity. Their work offers a real chance that scientists may soon discover a drug that can slow the aging process.

“People assume aging is immutable and that it is a fool’s errand to look for drugs that slow the aging process ─ but they are wrong,” says Richard Miller, director of the Center and professor of pathology at the medical school. “We have documented four different drugs that work in mice to decelerate aging and postpone the diseases and disabilities which make aging troublesome.”

Miller reports that in laboratory testing, the antiaging drugs they have in development have been shown to lengthen the average healthy lifespan of mice by 15-25 percent.

These initial findings are very promising, says Miller, who has been studying the biology of aging since 1982. He joined the U-M faculty in 1990.

“People would like to be able to swallow an antiaging pill that would help them stay healthy and live 10 to 20 years longer,” he says. “The only way to do that is by conducting research with mice, which are very similar to humans. Drugs that work in mice will often ─ though not always ─ work in people.”

The Most Promising Antiaging Drugs

Studies regarding three of the four drugs with the largest antiaging effects have been published in journals such as Nature and Aging Cell. Two of these are existing drugs that have been prescribed to people for various uses. The third is an experimental chemical, Miller says.

Rapamycin, a drug administered short-term to human patients to block the growth of certain kinds of cancer, has been highly effective in extending the healthy lifespan of both male and female mice by more than 20 percent.

Acarbose, a drug commonly used in other countries to control diabetes in human patients, also has shown promising antiaging effects. In normal or diabetic individuals, it slows down the conversion of starches to sugars and blunts the rapid rise of blood sugar levels after a meal.

“When we gave acarbose to our mice, the effect in males was quite striking,” Miller says. “The male mice had a 22 percent increase in healthy lifespan. There was a smaller, consistent, but significant effect in females who got a 5 percent to 10 percent lifespan extension.”

A third drug, 17-α-estradiol, which is a chemical variant of the more familiar form of estrogen, 17-β-estradiol, has been shown to lengthen the lifespan of male mice by 15-18 percent. However, it has had no similar effect on female mice.

Harold Katcher, the genetic scientist who helped to discover the breast cancer gene brca1, just co-authored a study that found his unique formulation made from “young blood plasma” known as “Elixir,” “significantly” increased the lifespan of rats.

Speaking to the press about the results of the study, Katcher said that, following treatment with Elixir, the “two-year-old rats showed the characteristics of rats half their age, by all the age-related traits we could measure….”

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