World
11.5.16

Why Ageing is so Hard to Slow Down

Photo by Titoy’ . From Flickr.

The search for the fountain of youth or a medical equivalent has been a permanent fixture of human interest. Therefore, any news of drugs which could potentially slow down the ageing process always arouse excitement.

The latest youthful drug to hit the headlines is metaformin. Used for over 60 years as a treatment for type 2 diabetes, it has now been repurposed for its anti-ageing benefits. It has shown promising results in animal trials, with mice living up to 40 percent longer than their untreated counterparts and worms not developing wrinkles. Though until it is scrutinised at human clinical trials, there is still a lot of scepticism over whether it will really work.

Metaformin is just one drug of many that has been rebranded as a potential longevity drug. Researchers have realised that the most effective way to combat growing old is to target ageing itself as a major risk factor for chronic diseases that cut life short. These chronic conditions include diabetes, cancer and heart disease, hence the natural inclination for metaformin to be researched.

It is thought that metaformin works by suppressing glucose production in the liver and increasing insulin sensitivity. Insulin’s role in ageing has been known for a while, with lower insulin levels being associated with longevity and centenarians being more likely to carry the genetic variant that suppresses the insulin-like growth factor.

However, the idea of simply dosing everyone with metaformin and promising them a longer life is unlikely to work. As with all things in medicine, there are numerous factors which can affect the outcome. Alongside this, there are several theories of how ageing works. The amount of paper to explain them all in detail would require enough words for a PhD. However, the most prominent theory will be briefly explained just to highlight how difficult it is to bypass ageing.

Photo by Andreas Schalk. From Flickr.

The search for the fountain of youth or a medical equivalent has been a permanent fixture of human interest. Therefore, any news of drugs which could potentially slow down the ageing process always arouse excitement.

The latest youthful drug to hit the headlines is metaformin. Used for over 60 years as a treatment for type 2 diabetes, it has now been repurposed for its anti-ageing benefits. It has shown promising results in animal trials, with mice living up to 40 percent longer than their untreated counterparts and worms not developing wrinkles. Though until it is scrutinised at human clinical trials, there is still a lot of scepticism over whether it will really work.

Metaformin is just one drug of many that has been rebranded as a potential longevity drug. Researchers have realised that the most effective way to combat growing old is to target ageing itself as a major risk factor for chronic diseases that cut life short. These chronic conditions include diabetes, cancer and heart disease, hence the natural inclination for metaformin to be researched.

It is thought that metaformin works by suppressing glucose production in the liver and increasing insulin sensitivity. Insulin’s role in ageing has been known for a while, with lower insulin levels being associated with longevity and centenarians being more likely to carry the genetic variant that suppresses the insulin-like growth factor.

However, the idea of simply dosing everyone with metaformin and promising them a longer life is unlikely to work. As with all things in medicine, there are numerous factors which can affect the outcome. Alongside this, there are several theories of how ageing works. The amount of paper to explain them all in detail would require enough words for a PhD. However, the most prominent theory will be briefly explained just to highlight how difficult it is to bypass ageing.

This theory is that all human cells have a biological clock and can only divide a certain number of times. The telomeres which sit on the end of every single chromosome in our cells can be thought of as the ticking hands of this clock. Each time a cell divides, the telomere shortens. After numerous divisions, the telomere reaches a critically short length which signals the alarm that cells must undergo cell death.

The concept of telomeres may lead many to believe that the concept of slowing ageing is hopeless. However, there is an amazing enzyme appropriately called telomerase which is able to keep telomeres at a constant length and therefore allow cells to become immortal. Unfortunately, telomerase is what cancer uses to survive and therefore is obviously very risky to use.

If clinical trials for any of these anti-ageing drugs prove successful, it would save the health care system millions but would also completely transform the dynamics of society. However, with the elixir of life still being a far off goal for scientists, it seems we still have time to work out how society would be restructured to accommodate a healthy older population.

Global Seven News

Jade Parker

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