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It's the stuff of science fiction. Scientists believe that a drug being used to treat diabetes can slow down the aging process so that humans will be able to live until they are 120 years old. Even better, it has the potential to end cancer, dementia, and other diseases that affect older people.
The drug, metformin, has already been able to extend the life of mice and other animals. Now the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has given scientists the go ahead and test it on people, starting next year. If the drug works the same way on humans as it does in the lab, then a 70-year-old could feel as young and healthy as a 50-year-old.
Metformin releases oxygen to the cells, and scientists believe that is the key to boosting health and longevity. All cells have the potential to continue forever; but the more they divide--as they must, billions of times over during our life spans--the more chances they have to mutate. So, for example, cancer cells suddenly will grow uncontrollably and form tumors. And when nerve cells, or neurons, in the brain break down or die, people develop Parkinson's.
As Gordon Lithgow, a professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in California, and one of the study's advisers says, “If you target an aging process and you slow down aging then you slow down all the diseases and pathology of aging as well,” he said “That’s revolutionary. That’s never happened before."
Researchers are hoping to recruit 3,000 70- to 80-year-olds who either have or are at risk for developing dementia, cancer, and heart disease, and giving them metformin to see if it can stop these diseases and reverses aging.