More than 100 drugs have been found to combat aging by virtually the same biological mechanisms and may be available within five years, according to landmark new research led by a Harvard University researcher.
The work, published in the journal Science, has proven that a single anti-aging enzyme in the body — known scientifically as SIRT1 — can prevent age-related diseases and extend lifespans. The research also shows that SIRT can be switched on by 117 known drugs, as well as low-calorie diets, exercise, and the antioxidant resveratrol, found in red wine.
David Sinclair, a Harvard Medical School professor of genetics, said the discovery means that a whole new class of anti-aging drugs is now viable, which could ultimately prevent cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and type 2 diabetes.
"Ultimately, these drugs would treat one disease, but unlike drugs of today, they would prevent 20 others," said Sinclair. "In effect, they would slow aging."
He added: “We're finding that aging isn't the irreversible affliction that we thought it was. Some of us could live to 150, but we won't get there without more research."
According to the new research, SIRT1 is activated naturally by calorie restriction and exercise, but can also be switched on by resveratrol — found in red wine, grape skins, peanuts, and berries — as well as drugs and supplements.
Although research on resveratrol has been going for a decade, Sinclair’s work is the first to identify the basic science that explains how it confers health benefits. Past studies have suggested it may have promising implications for the treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, heart failure, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, fatty liver disease, cataracts, osteoporosis, muscle wasting, sleep disorders, and inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis, arthritis, and colitis.
Sinclair formed a started up company, Sirtris, to develop the anti-aging medical technology. It was subsequently sold to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). Sinclair is now a scientific advisor to GSK. Several other authors on the paper work for GSK or an affiliated company. Four thousand synthetic activators, which are 100 times as potent as a single glass of red wine, have been developed; the best three are in human trials, Sinclair noted.
"In the history of pharmaceuticals, there has never been a drug that tweaks an enzyme to make it run faster," said Sinclair, who is also a geneticist with the Department of Pharmacology at the University of South Wales, Australia. "Our drugs can mimic the benefits of diet and exercise, but there is no impact on weight."
While any drug would be strictly prescribed for certain conditions, Sinclair said oral medications could be developed soon as an anti-aging preventative, in the same way statin drugs are prescribed to prevent, instead of simply treating, cardiovascular disease.
In new research, led by Sinclair, overweight mice given synthetic resveratrol were able to run twice as far as slim mice and they lived 15 percent longer.
"Now we are looking at whether there are benefits for those who are already healthy," said Sinclair. “Things there are also looking promising.”
The study was funded, in part, by the National Institutes of Health.
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