Could metformin be the fountain of youth?

January 8, 2016

A new clinical trial is underway to determine if metformin can slow the aging process, in addition to managing type 2 diabetes.

Despite the fact that type 2 diabetes is believed to shorten one’s life by eight years, researchers now believe that a common medication for the condition-metformin-may have numerous additional health benefits, including anti-aging properties.

Nir Barzilai, MD, the Rennet chair of aging research, professor of medicine and genetics, and director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Glenn Center for the Biology of Human Aging at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University in New York is now engaged in a clinical trial of metformin for longevity to determine how it may influence metabolic and cellular processes associated with the development of age-related conditions, such as inflammation, oxidative damage, diminished autophagy, cell senescence, and apoptosis. Researchers are specifically examining whether metformin use can restore gene expression profile in older adults with impaired glucose tolerance to that of younger individuals.

“We want to change the habit of treating very accumulating disease with accumulating therapy for the elderly,” Barzilai told Medical Economics. “We would rather prevent aging and by that prevent the onset of multiple diseases.”

 

A 2014 study has already revealed longer lifespans in patients treated with metformin rather than sulphonylureas, and suggested that metformin may also offer benefits to patients without diabetes. According to lead researcher Craig Currey of Cardiff University, metformin has already been shown to offer benefits against cancer and cardiovascular disease.

Metformin works by suppressing glucose production in the liver and increasing insulin sensitivity, therefore benefitting patients with type 2 diabetes. Developed in the 1920s, metformin usage increased in the 1970s when other biguanides were withdrawn from use, but was not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in treating type 2 diabetes until 1994.

To examine the benefits outside treatment of diabetes, the clinical trial-Targeting Aging with Metformin (TAME)-will involve 3,000 individuals between the ages of 70 and 80 with two or three chronic conditions such as cancer, heart disease, or a cognitive impairment, but not individuals with type 2 diabetes since that is already a proven use for metformin. Participants will be monitored to determine whether metformin is effective in halting the progression or development of additional illness.

Metformin has already been shown to slow the aging process in certain microbes and mammals. Barzilai hopes that if metformin-a cheap, generic medication-proves useful in stemming aging and disease progression or development, that the FDA will approve it for that indication and even better medications can be developed.