Middle-aged people will be able to grow old gracefully within a generation by taking a pill which can fight the ageing process, an eminent scientist predicts.
Dame Linda Partridge, a geneticist at University College London, claimed drugs will soon be available which can lower the risk of diseases like cancer and dementia by tackling the root cause – age itself.
Rather than promising immortality, taking the drugs from middle age or earlier could dramatically shorten the period of illness and frailty that we typically experience before we die.
Speaking at the EMBO life sciences meeting in Nice, France this week Dame Linda said several existing drugs have already been shown to have unexpected and welcome sideeffects, such as aspirin which reduces the risk of cancer.
Other therapies will be produced that mimic the effects of a severely restricted diet, which animal studies suggest can protect against a host of age-related conditions including heart disease and diabetes, she said.
Speaking after her keynote lecture, she told The Daily Telegraph: “One obvious approach in trying to deal with the very rapidly increasing incidence of age related diseases is to tackle the underlying ageing process itself, because it is the major risk factor.
“What we want is, rather than a lingering period of ill health, to have a fairly sudden death when it comes.
“We are not talking about immortality, we are trying to get rid of that period of ill health that people get towards the end of their lives, to hold off age related disease for longer.”
Genetic alterations and diet restriction in animals have been shown to delay ageing by blocking parts of the chemical network in our bodies which co-ordinates everything from growth and metabolism to our reproductive system.
Some drugs licensed for use in humans, including aspirin and metformin, a common diabetes drug, have already been found to mimic the way these gene mutations and dietary restriction affect our bodies, and have a similar effect.
Because the treatments tackle the ageing of the body itself, they could also preserve other traits like our muscle strength, hearing and the condition of our skin.
In the coming decades it may be possible to combine the key active ingredients into a single pill which would protect us against the ravages of age, Dame Linda predicted.
She said: “What we want is drugs that mimic dietary restriction, and so far we have mainly been finding that drugs that are already licensed for us have a broader impact than people realised.
“Certainly it looks with dietary restriction as if it can hold off the diseases for longer – with mice we often can’t tell what they died of. It compresses the morbid period at the end of life, the period when things aren’t quite right before death occurs.
“It is quite likely [a future treatment] would be one pill, but it would have more than one ingredient. I think it will come in gradually, I hope in my lifetime.”
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