Anti-ageing drugs may sound like science fiction, but they are currently the subject of extensive research. The discovery of an effective anti-ageing drug would mark a monumental step for the healthcare industry, on a scale unmatched since the discovery of antibiotics in the 1920s.

Attention turned towards anti-ageing drug development following the findings that the diabetes drug Metformin could prolong lifespan. Animal studies showed that the drug increased lifespan by almost 40 percent. A human trial is now planned, and will study the drug in 3,000 subjects with age-related diseases over a five-to-seven-year period.

Metformin’s anti-aging properties are thought to be due to its ability to trick the body into a fasting state, which in turn promotes the natural ability to clear out damaged and dysfunctional cells.

The answer to cancer?

The implications of being able to develop safe and effective drugs with this effect are enormous, as it represents the antithesis of the growth and spread of cancer cells.

A study of Metformin in breast cancer patients found that those who began using the drug after their cancer diagnosis were almost 50 percent more likely to survive than non-users. However, patients who were already Metformin users prior to cancer diagnosis were more than twice as likely to die as patients who had never previously used the drug – so the effectiveness may well be time-dependent.

There are massive implications of increased understanding of the way that drugs that mimic fasting prolong survival and affect cancer development. For example, it is now accepted that following a fasting regimen during chemotherapy improves safety and effectiveness of the drug in cancer patients. As well as cancer, ageing is the underlying mechanism in numerous other diseases, including cardiovascular disease and even neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia.

There is every chance that anti-ageing drugs could be used to treat or perhaps even prevent a wide range of severe diseases in the not-too-distant future.