Here's a Medicine That Could Help Us Live to Age 120

A drug is going into human testing that could prevent rapid aging.

Alzheimer’s. Parkinson’s. Diabetes. Cancer. Heart disease. These days, it’s hard to escape talk of the diseases that could be the death of us. Or is it? Maybe all of those scary illnesses don’t actually have to be as threatening as they once were.

Anti-aging drugs are the newest horizon in pharmaceuticals, and a drug called metformin will be tested in human trials in the U.S. as an anti-aging pill for the first time next year. The drug was originally meant to address diabetes, and has been used successfully in that manner already. However, researchers discovered that metformin is also effective at extending lifespan in test animals and anecdotally in humans. Testing the drug officially on humans is the next step in figuring out whether metformin really is the miracle it poses to be.

If the drug tests successfully as an anti-aging pharmaceutical, it has potential to help humans live to the age of 120 or longer. Scientists think that the drug augments lifespan by increasing the number of oxygen molecules released in a cell, which can make it stronger and more long-lived. Theories of what causes aging in the first place vary widely. Some scientists think that it has to do with DNA being programmed to a certain lifecycle. Others view telomere length (the ends of DNA) as the determining factor. And yet different researchers believe that aging is caused simply by the accumulation of stressors and chemicals over time.

One can’t help but think of a science fiction novel when hearing about the new use of metformin. If successful, it could mean that we start to see aging as a disease itself that can be “fixed” with medicine. Could mass production of an anti-aging pill lead to inequality in the future based on who can afford to purchase the drug? It’s still too early to say of course, since researchers first have to confirm that the medicine works in humans specifically for that purpose.

So why is this particular drug moving forward with trials and not another? Well, actually several companies have invested in searching for an anti-aging medicine. Strategies range from stem cell therapies to drugs that target specific illnesses that affect older individuals, such as Parkinson’s. However, metformin might be the one moving forward currently because it is already known to be “safe” for use in treating diabetes, while other anti-aging drugs are new. Regardless of the reason metformin is moving forward, it’s clear that the world will be holding its breath waiting for its results.


Stefani is a writer and urban planner based in Oakland, CA. She holds a master’s in City and Regional Planning from UC Berkeley and a bachelor’s in Human Biology from Stanford University. In her free time she is often found reading diverse literature, writing stories, or enjoying the outdoors.  Follow her on Twitter:@stefanicox

Develop mindfulness to boost your creative intelligence

Sharon Salzberg, world-renowned mindfulness leader, teaches meditation at Big Think Edge.

Image: Big Think
Big Think Edge
  • Try meditation for the first time with this guided lesson or, if you already practice, enjoy being guided by a world-renowned meditation expert.
  • Sharon Salzberg teaches mindfulness meditation for Big Think Edge.
  • Subscribe to Big Think Edge before we launch on March 30 to get 20% off monthly and annual memberships.
Keep reading Show less

Google Maps apologizes for going rogue in Japan

The navigation tool has placed a school in the sea, among other things.

Strange Maps
  • Google has apologized for the sudden instability of its maps in Japan.
  • Errors may stem from Google's long-time map data provider Zenrin – or from the cancellation of its contract.
  • Speculation on the latter option caused Zenrin shares to drop 16% last Friday.
Keep reading Show less

Vikings unwittingly made their swords stronger by trying to imbue them with spirits

They didn't know it, but the rituals of Iron Age Scandinavians turned their iron into steel.

Culture & Religion
  • Iron Age Scandinavians only had access to poor quality iron, which put them at a tactical disadvantage against their neighbors.
  • To strengthen their swords, smiths used the bones of their dead ancestors and animals, hoping to transfer the spirit into their blades.
  • They couldn't have known that in so doing, they actually were forging a rudimentary form of steel.
Keep reading Show less

A new theory explains Jupiter’s perplexing origin

A new computer model solves a pair of Jovian riddles.

(NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill)
Surprising Science
  • Astronomers have wondered how a gas giant like Jupiter could sit in the middle of our solar system's planets.
  • Also unexplained has been the pair of asteroid clusters in front of and behind Jupiter in its orbit.
  • Putting the two questions together revealed the answer to both.
Keep reading Show less