Spindler's research team fed some 20-month-old mice (about 50 or 60 in human years) a low-calorie diet, while others got a normal diet containing one of several drugs that affect insulin and metabolic function. After eight weeks, they compared the response to the treatments by analyzing liver samples to decode what genetic messages it sent and received.
The most common drug used in managing Type 2 diabetes, generically known as Metformin, was a standout — it sparked a very similar pattern to calorie-restriction."Metformin did a wonderful job of reproducing those effects," says pindler "It looks almost exactly like calorie restriction in its effects. And so we're hopeful that that one drug might have similar effects on lifespan and on health."
But they warn that it's not known how Metformin would affect healthy, non-diabetic people, and caution against taking it — reminding us that all drugs have the potential to cause negative side effects.
"Unfortunately we don't really know yet whether that will mean that metformin will extend the lifespan of healthy animals or healthy people," Spindler says. "I hope that healthy, nondiabetic people won't begin buying metformin and taking it. I think anytime you start experimenting on yourself that you're entering dangerous territory."
Elixir CEO Heiden agrees, saying only a long term clinical trial can actually confirm whether any anti-aging treatment will work for people. For now, Spindler says he hopes drug developers will be able to use this method to discover new treatments with the same benefits but fewer side effects than existing diabetes Drugs.
Meanwhile Spindler points out that losing weight if you are overweight, exercising and quitting smoking are known to increase your life expectancy.
Spindler's research was reported in Discover, October 2005 and published in the September, 2005 issue of Physiological Genomics, and was funded by the Life Extension Foundation.