Other examples of substances touted as potentially age-delaying include rapamycin and its analogs, which are small molecule inhibitors commonly used against cancer, and resveratrol, an antioxidant."But the advantage of metformin," Barzilai insisted, "is that it's been in use for the last 60 years for the treatment of diabetes. We know everything we need about it, including its side effects, and we know that it's safe."The primary role of metformin when used to treat type 2 diabetes is to lower the levels of glucose in the blood. It does this by increasing the body's sensitivity to the effects of insulin, which helps cells to take in the right amount of glucose.Work in animals by Barzilai and his co-researchers has however suggested that metformin could have a positive impact on a number of other diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and the impairment of cognitive functions.One of the main explanations for this is that metformin is responsible for calorie restriction, which, according to a paper by Barzilai and his team, "represents the most robust intervention to extend both mean and maximum life span in mammals."The TAME study, if it goes ahead, will bring together an advisory board of about 30 specialists. According to Barzilai, it will be spread among 15 different centres around the US, and might extend internationally if results are conclusive.
"Our aim is to increase the health span of elderly people in order to increase our quality of life, and help lighten the economic burden that healthcare represents."
Furthermore, Barzilai hopes that the project could help fight against the ever-growing market of the existing anti-ageing industry."There are loads of unapproved, untested treatments that are marketed as having 'anti-ageing' effects out there," he said. "I'm thinking for example of growth hormone injections, or anti-ageing creams…""There's a big market for this right now, but once you set the bar high, it will help fight against those guys as well."The researchers are however careful not to give out the wrong image of their aims. While they are firm believers that age can be efficiently targeted, they refuse to label it as a "disease" or say it should be "cured.""For us scientists, ageing is something that happens and has to be respected," the lead researcher said. "It is part of our humanity.""We never set off to 'delay ageing.' What we're trying to do via this study is to increase our health span, not our life span, though both are obviously inextricably linked. It shouldn't be seen as a 'fountain of youth.'"The FDA refused to comment on the project at this stage.Barzilai is however confident that things will go well. "I think at this point, the FDA understands that this [project] is important, and that if it works it will have a great impact," he said.The FDA should present the scientists with their conclusions within the next couple of weeks.Modern Medicine is a series on Motherboard about how health care and medical technology can move forward so rapidly while still being stuck in the past. Follow along here.
"For us scientists, ageing is something that happens and has to be respected."