UW Medicine

Drugs to slow aging are a matter of when, not if

Many experts in the biology of aging believe that pharmacological interventions to slow aging are a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’. A review in the Journal Nature by UW Scientists, Simon Johnson, a graduate student in pathology; Peter Rabinovitch, professor of pathology; and Matt Kaeberlein, associate professor of pathology, argues that “slowing aging should increase both lifespan and healthspan — the period of life spent in relatively good health, free from chronic disease or disability,”

“A shared feature of most medically relevant diseases is that your risk of dying from them increases dramatically as you get older,” said Matt Kaeberlein, senior author of the paper. “Unlike traditional approaches, which tend to focus on a specific disease, targeting the aging process itself has a much greater potential to improve human health.”

A leading target for such interventions is the nutrient response pathway defined by mTOR, a protein that controls cell growth. UW scientists are examining how the inhibition of the protein mTOR, may modulate aging and age-related disease.

“Inhibition of this pathway extends lifespan in model organisms and confers protection against a growing list of age-related pathologies. Characterized inhibitors of this pathway are already clinically approved, and others are under development. Although adverse side effects currently preclude use in otherwise healthy individuals, drugs that target the mTOR pathway could one day become widely used to slow aging and reduce age-related pathologies in humans,” said the authors.

“It may sound a bit like science fiction,” says Kaeberlein, “but there is growing confidence in the field that we really can develop drugs that slow human aging and extend the period of healthy life for most people. Imagine what you could do with an extra 10 or 20 years of youthfulness.”