New Zealand researchers identify drug that could extend lifespan

Scientists have identified a drug that has the potential for healthier aging and could extend lifespans.

In the study, researchers at the University of Auckland fed mice a control diet or the same diet with the addition of a drug called alpelisib. The trial found that the long-term treatment of healthy mice from middle age (one year) with the drug can increase their lifespan by an average of 10 percent to around three years old.

According to the researchers, not only did the mice who were fed the drug-containing diet live longer, they showed some signs of being healthier in old age, such as improved coordination and strength. However, the researchers are cautious about humans using the drug since the mice treated with it also had some negative markers of ageing, like lower bone mass.

"Ageing is not only about lifespan but also about quality of life," said University of Auckland research fellow Dr Chris Hedges. "Therefore, we were pleased to see this drug treatment not only increased longevity of the mice but they also showed many signs of healthier ageing. We are working now to understand how this happens."

But principal investigator Associate Professor Troy Merry said they aren't suggesting people go out and take this drug long-term to extend their lifespan since there are some side effects.

"However, this work identifies mechanisms crucial to ageing that will be of use in our long-term efforts to increase lifespan and health span," Assoc Prof Merry said. "It also suggests a number of possible ways in which shorter-term treatments with this drug could be used to treat certain metabolic health conditions and we are following this up now."

Professor Peter Shepherd, an expert in cell signalling, said what alpelisib targets is an enzyme called PI 3-kinase. 

"We have been working on developing drugs to target PI 3-kinase for more than 20 years as evidence indicated they would be useful to treat cancers as many cancers have an excess activation of this pathway," he said, 

"Therefore, it's great to see that these drugs might have uses in other areas and reveal novel mechanisms contributing to age-related diseases. It also shows the value of long-term investment in research in areas such as this."