Who doesn’t like to look like a 30-year-old at the senior citizen’s age of 60 plus? We all would like to have long lifespans. Nowadays, it’s not just longevity that’s desired; people wish to remain healthy till the advanced age, i.e., long healthspans. Andrew Steele, a scientist in the area of gerontology, thinks that aging is not something inevitable; it can be considered like a kind of disease that can be cured.
Some like Dr Aubrey de Grey goes to the extent that we all can have eternal lives; or, at least, live for very long times-say, 200-300 years. Scientists are trying to develop senolytic drugs, anti-aging creams, and even anti-aging pills-drugs that could delay your aging.
There are several drugs in the pipeline; some prominent candidates include rapamycin, metformin, dasatinib and quercetin etc.
Cellular senescence and senolytic drugs
Normal human cells are ‘mortal’-after a fixed number of divisions, healthy cells stop dividing but they remain metabolically active and begin doing things harmful to tissues, organs and the body. Senolytics are a group of drugs that can eliminate these ‘rogue cells’ from the body.
Senolytic drugs are expected to reverse physical dysfunction and enhance life expectancy. These drugs are treating age-related diseases rather than individual symptoms. Senolytic drugs are, therefore, a type of ‘aging curing drugs.’
Though cellular senescence (aging) has been known since the 1960s, the discovery of senolytic drugs was initiated at the Mayo Clinic only in 2018.
Dasatinib and Quercetin
Dasatinib is a drug for leukemia (blood cancer). In a study by Mayo Clinic in 2018, published in Nature Medicine, it was shown that dasatinib as well as quercetin have potential to be developed as senolytic drugs. What is quercetin? It’s a compound derived from plants with antioxidant properties.
How do dasatinib and quercetin act as senolytic drugs?
These drugs target the pathways that allow ‘rogue cells’ to avoid death; thus, killing and eliminating them from the body. In this way, the senescent cells are prevented from causing further harm to healthy cells.
Senolytics have been shown to improve both health span and lifespan in mice and other aged animals, according to James Kirkland, a Mayo Clinic aging researcher.
Subsequently, Mayo Clinic scientists along with collaborators from Wake Forest School of Medicine and University of Texas Health Sciences Centre at San Antonio conducted clinical trails on a group of patients suffering from pulmonary fibrosis.
Each participant received the two drugs-dasatinib and quercetin-taken orally for 3 consecutive days each week for three consecutive weeks. The results were dramatic. The patients were able to walk with only mild-to-moderate side effects. These drugs could also reduce memory loss, ameliorate diabetes, and reduce anxiety in mice.
Dr Tamara Tchkonia, a co-author of the Mayo study, says “…we might have these drugs in maybe two years.” Though his view was exaggerated, we can hope that one or another ant-aging drug may be approved in the next decade.
Rapamycin: a miraculous anti-aging drug
Rapamycin may be a wonderful Methuselah drug, enabling humans to live for over 100 years-may be even a few centuries. It was first isolated in 1972 from a bacterium isolated from soil collected from Rapa Nui (Easter Island). It was first touted as an antifungal antibiotic, then as an immunosuppressant (helping kidney and other transplants, preventing them from rejection by the body’s immune system). The latest avatar of rapamycin is as an anti-ageing drug.
How do rapamycin act as a senolytic drug?
As a part of the Dog Aging Project, 500 canines in US are being studied for rapamycin’s potential to act as an anti-ageing drug. Rapamycin is known to target senescent cells and other disorders of aging. In small doses, rapamycin has been shown to prolong life in yeasts, flies, worms, and mice.
The dogs in the US will be given rapamycin and followed for up to a decade, to see if their lives are extended by up to 4 human years (or 28 dog years).
Nir Barzilai and Metformin
Barzilai is a leading scientist in this field. He believes that besides rapamycin, another drug called metformin could potentially act as a senolytic drug. Metformin is a drug used by thousands of patients with Type 2 Diabetes. It was in 2016, that Barzilai suggested that metformin could be used to delay aging.
Dr Nir Barzilai and his team at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, are now actively investigating the various ways of increasing human healthspans.
It must be warned though that the information shared in this column is research-based findings and one should not experiment with the aforementioned drugs without the advice of practicing doctors!
At the research level; rapamycin, metformin, dasatinib, quercetin and other drugs promise to be potential anti-ageing drugs. However, before being approved by appropriate agencies such as the FDA, large-scale clinical trails are invariably needed. This much is now clear, aging now looks like a disease that may be treated. In the coming decades, these and other senolytic drugs could potentially enhance human lifespans and healthspans. Humanity is now entering the era of the senolytic drugs!
(The views expressed are personal)