Longevity science in a worm

For more than a decade, biologists have been using microscopic worms to test ways to lengthen life. That work has paid off, this time by finding a combination of drugs that almost doubled worms’ healthy lifespans.

A team at Singapore’s Yale-NUS College worked with Caenorhabditis elegans, lifeline researchers’ favorite worm. They reviewed past studies to identify biological processes associated with lengthening life, then compiled a list of drugs known to tune up those processes as a side effect of their main function.

They tested various combinations of those compounds, targeting the pathway traveled by a protein called “transforming growth factor beta.” The protein plays a part in embryo development and controlling inflammation, among other things. They also focused on an insulin-like growth factor, which affects the ways that proteins interact with their surroundings in the body.

The combination resulted in the worms producing more of the healthy fats associated with a longer life.

Finally, they added allantoin, a moisturizer used in cosmetics, to the mix.

The result: worms that lived almost twice as long as they normally do and showed far fewer biochemical signs of aging.

More than half of the rejuvenated worms were still in good health when all of the untreated worms in the control group had died. The drug blends also showed no side effects on the worms, although side effects might appear eventually in longer-lived test subjects.

Not a fan of pharmaceuticals? Fisetin and turmeric may be your option.

A research group from the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic found that fisetin, a flavonoid derived from plant pigments, also extends the span of a healthy life.

As a person ages, cells accumulate damage from toxins, DNA damage, and other sources. At some point, cells begin a process called “senescence,” a polite term for cells decaying and becoming less and less able to reproduce robust new cells. Younger people’s bodies can clear out dead and dying cells, but that task gets harder as we age.

Fisetin, already available as a dietary supplement for brain health, was found to boost mice’s ability to clear the cells and extend both health and life. The compound showed a similar result in human tissue samples. But doses at least four or five times those now recommended would be needed to achieve the result and toxicity levels haven’t been measured.

In an unrelated study, the Salk Institute isolated compounds in fisetin and curcumin, a compound in the spice turmeric, both enhance memory, reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s Disease, and extend healthy life.


Fisetin and curcumin are natural life-enhancers, which indicates that they’re less likely than pharmaceuticals to have long-term side effects. Salk scientists are isolating key factors in both to use in formal human trials. Meanwhile, the Yale-NUS team is refining its cocktail and delving deeper into the mechanisms that make it work and what long-term side effects might be. Ultimately, they – and other colleagues around the world working with keeping worms young – will graduate to trials in mammals and, eventually, humans.

Regenerating a person’s failing mind and organs by using their own stem cells, combined with life-extending drug recipes and “nutraceuticals”, could let humans take control of the aging process by the end of this century.

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