The Science Behind the Pursuit of Youth
Ask the internet for antiaging tips and you’ll find advice ranging from Goop-y frivolities to dangerous shams. “Aging has always been a target for charlatans and snake oil salemen,” says John Newman, a geriatrics researcher at UC San Francisco and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. But as researchers begin to understand how aging works at a molecular level, there’s a glint of promise—and oodles of hype—in new life-extension treatments.
The Method: Pop metformin, a common treatment for type 2 diabetes.
The Science: It reduces glucose metabolism in the liver, improving insulin efficency. Diabetes patients treated with metformin live longer than those without—in one study, even outlasting nondiabetics.
Verdict: Promising. Clinical trials targeting age-related diseases are pending.
The Method: Transfuse the old with the blood of the young.
The Science: Researchers conjoined the circulatory systems of young and old mice, a process called parabiosis. It rejuvinated the tissues of the older mice, but the young mice also aged faster.
Verdict: It’s a powerful experiment, Newman says, “but it’s not yet ready for prime time.”
The Method: Use drugs to kill senescent cells—those that have stopped dividing due to DNA mutations.
The Science: These zombified cells secrete inflammatory proteins that can harm nearby tissue.
Verdict: Experimental drugs, not yet in clinical trials, could help our immune systems get rid of senescent cells faster.
The Method: Reprogram and replace worn-out stem cells.
The Science: We rely on stem cells to regenerate damaged tissue, but they become less functional as we age. Studies have shown that injecting young stem cells into the hypothalamus can have life-extending effects in mice.
Verdict: We’re not there yet. Avoid “stem-cell-based” topical creams and dodgy stem-cell-injection clinics.
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