Drugs that combat ageing may be available within five years, following landmark work led by an Australian researcher.
The work, published in the March 8 issue of Science, finally proves that a single anti-ageing enzyme in the body can be targeted, with the potential to prevent age-related diseases and extend lifespans.
The paper shows all of the 117 drugs tested work on the single enzyme through a common mechanism. This means that a whole new class of anti-ageing 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," says the lead author of the paper, Professor David Sinclair, from UNSW Medicine, who is based at Harvard University. "In effect, they would slow ageing."
The target enzyme, SIRT1, is switched on naturally by calorie restriction and exercise, but it can also be enhanced through activators. The most common naturally-occurring activator is resveratrol, which is found in small quantities in red wine, but synthetic activators with much stronger activity are already being developed.
Although research surrounding resveratrol has been going for a decade, until now the basic science had been contested. Despite this, there have already been promising results in some trials with implications for cancer, cardiovascular disease and cardiac failure, type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, fatty liver disease, cataracts, osteoporosis, muscle wasting, sleep disorders and inflammatory diseases such as psoriasis, arthritis and colitis (inflammatory bowel disease).
"In the history of pharmaceuticals, there has never been a drug that tweaks an enzyme to make it run faster," says Professor Sinclair, a geneticist with the Department of Pharmacology at UNSW.
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