Recent Advances in Anti-Aging Research
One of the most recent trends in biomedical research is interest in looking for ways to slow down or reverse the aging process. Doesn’t mean that getting old is considered undesirable. What it does mean is that researchers are hoping to find ways to make it possible for the elderly to live healthy and productive lives without all the negative physical changes that take place in our bodies as we get older, such as loss of muscle mass and bone density, shrinking of the brain, weakening of the heart muscle, stiffening of the joints, and so on.
According to Dr. Nir Barzilai, Director of the National Institutes of Health at Nathan Shock Centers of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging, aging is a preventable health condition. His research involves metformin, a relatively inexpensive and widely prescribed medication for diabetes. Previous studies showed that patients with Type 2 diabetes who were taking metformin were less likely to die from any medical cause than similar patients who were not taking the medication. The patients on metformin also had a lower risk of developing heart disease, dementia, and several types of cancer. During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was noticed that unvaccinated patients on metformin who contracted the virus were less likely to be hospitalized for conditions relating to COVID-19. The key ingredients in metformin were originally derived from a plant known as Galega officinalis, commonly known as “goat’s rue”. This plant was used as an herbal remedy in medieval times in the treatment of digestion and urinary problems, bubonic plague, worms, and snake bites, and as a tonic to help nursing mothers lactate. Scientists do not know exactly how metformin works to slow down or prevent aging, but they know that it can control blood sugar levels, reduce oxidative stress, and protect the cardiovascular system. Research is now under way to demonstrate the drug’s effectiveness in promoting better health in the elderly and increasing the human lifespan.
Dr. James Kirkland of the Mayo Clinic is exploring the use of drugs to remove aging cells from the body. As we get older, some of the cells in our body deteriorate and eventually
stop dividing to produce new cells. Our immune system gets rid of these cells, but as we get older, our immune system weakens and becomes less efficient at getting rid of these redundant cells, they remain in our body and cause inflammation and other problems that contribute to the aging process. Dr. Kirkland is experimenting with a mixture of the cancer drug dasatinib and a substance called quercetin, an antioxidant found in grapes, tomatoes, and other fruits and vegetables. An early clinical trial showed that this mixture was effective in eliminating useless cells from the tissues of patients with diabetic kidney disease. Another recent study found that oxygen therapy for 60 days given to 35 seniors aged 64 and older was effective in reducing these useless cells, and at the same time rejuvenating DNA.
Of course, these and other studies and explorations are still in their early stages, and any approved treatments that arise from them will take years to reach the public. What the anti-aging researchers hope to do in these early stages is to change the way people think about aging. Our current attitude to aging is that it is inevitable. It comes to us all, and it cannot be avoided. We accept it as our “fate” as human beings. This attitude is difficult to change because it is rooted in thousands of years of tradition and first-hand experiences of aging and death. However, if we stop thinking of aging as inevitable and start thinking of it as preventable, then we will be in the right frame of mind to change our lifestyle so as to prevent the biological processes that cause our bodies to begin undergoing the aging process. If we think that we can be vigorous and full of vitality well into our senior years, then we will enact that thinking in our daily lives and thus make a vigorous and healthy old age a reality.
A frequently heard saying is: “Age is a state of mind”. It turns out that this is, in some sense, true.