Metformin, a drug already approved and widely used in treating Type 2 diabetes, is already known to prolong life in animals.
Last year researchers at Cardiff University reported that people with Type 2 diabetes who took the drug lived 15% longer than a group of comparable healthy people.
The drug appeared to reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and cognitive decline.
The Institute for Ageing at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York wants to give the drug to 3,000 people who don’t have diabetes to see if it prolongs their lives too.
Nir Barzilai, the director at the Institute, argues that “Evidence from animal models and in vitro studies suggest that metformin canoes metabolic and cellular processes associated with age-related conditions“.
Previous research into prolonging life has usually involved near-starvation diets. It is unusual for a single drug to affect so many different diseases.
One of the hurdles that the Institute has to overcome is persuading the powerful US Food and Drugs Administration that ageing is actually a disease that cane be treated rather than a natural and unstoppable process.
Another is finding £30 million to fund the trial which would involve 3,000 patients aged 70-80 at 15 different centres and follow them for seven years to see how their health compared to others in a control group (i.e. not taking metformin).
Barzilai and his colleagues say that “Accumulating scientific evidence suggests that targeting ageing will postpone chronic diseases and prevent multiple age-associated metabolic alterations while extending healthy life span“.
They believe that the time has come to start clinical trials with a view to increasing the healthy lifespan of the human population.