If trials are successful, a new drug may reverse ageing, curb disease and keep people active for longer. Picture: 123RF/WANG TOM
If trials are successful, a new drug may reverse ageing, curb disease and keep people active for longer. Picture: 123RF/WANG TOM

Ageing and death have for long held people captive in fear. This fear has raked in thousands for plastic surgeons and companies lauding products and processes that will prolong your life or, at the very least, your health.

It is out of this fear that the company Ambrosia, a startup that offered transfusions of human plasma harvested from young donors from the age of 16 and 25 years, to clients 30 years or older, managed to stay in business for a year-and-a-half before closing its doors.

Its claims that the process could improve health ailments and extend a person’s life were controversial and unproven. Earlier in 2019, the startup closed its doors after the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning to potential customers, citing public health concerns and informing them that these treatments had not undergone FDA testing and should be assumed to be unsafe and ineffective.

The cohorts who were willing to pay more than R113,000 for one litre of young blood will rejoice at new trials being carried out by scientists that may result in a drug that can target chronic disease and slow down ageing.

Scientists at the Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota have started trialling “senolytics”, drugs that seem to be slowing down or maybe even reversing the ageing process.

Senolytics target senescent cells, or “zombie cells”, that have stopped dividing but instead of dying off and clearing from the body, they release chemicals that harm healthy cells. These cells increase with age and eventually begin to cause disease.

Speaking to The Telegraph, clinical geriatrician James Kirkland, director of the centre, says ageing itself is the highest risk factor for contracting chronic diseases such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

“If you targeted fundamental ageing processes it might be possible to delay, prevent or alleviate these chronic conditions as a group instead of going after them one at a time,” he says.

“Most people don’t want to live to 130 and feel like they’re 130, but they wouldn’t mind living to 90 or 100 and feel like they’re 60. And now that can actually be achieved in animals.”

First tested on lab mice, scientists are now trialling senolytics on six humans with plans to start on six more shortly. When tested on mice, the drugs appeared to have extended their lifespan by 36% while they remained in good health.

If the human trials prove to be successful, these drugs will be ready within two years. If the mice trials are anything to go by, they could add 30 years to human life. At the very least, it should improve subjects’ health and quality of life dramatically.

This would be a breakthrough and would affect older people’s ability to work for longer, to take care of themselves and to live more active lifestyles.