Many studies have shown that rigorous caloric restriction, or strict dieting, can increase longevity dramatically in lifeforms from yeast to humans. But a study released today shows one way to mimic the life-extending effects of food deprivation - using drugs.
A team of researchers in the UK explored the role of a protein known as S6K1, which turns out to play an extraordinary role in aging and age-related disease. When the researchers grew mice lacking the gene to produce S6K1, their mice lived significantly longer (see chart - the red lines are mice without S6K1). They also developed fewer age-related debilitating conditions.
Female mice without S6K1 lived slightly longer than their male counterparts, and over 160 days longer than the control group. That means the female mouse lifespan increased by twenty percent.
Mice without S6K1 also lost weight, even if they ate more than ordinary mice. In other words, a substance that could block the expression of S6K1 would trick the body into thinking that you'd gone on a very rigorous diet. And it would make you healthier into an older age. The best part?
In their paper, the researchers conclude:
It might be possible to develop drug treatments that manipulate S6K1 and AMPK to achieve improved overall health in later life. Indeed, short-term rapamycin treatment reduces adiposity in mice, and metformin treatment [often used against type 2 diabetes] extends lifespan in short-lived mice.
This is good news, because often when researchers make discoveries related to longevity there is no immediate pathway to manufacturing a life-extending drug. For all of us who want to stay healthy in old age while still eating sugar and fat once in a while, let's hope this research team starts testing a drug based on their S6K1 discovery - and soon.