A drug designed to treat diabetes has been found to delay the ageing process as well - and it could be trialled in humans as soon as next year.
Metformin, which has been prescribed as a human diabetes medicine for decades, was found to increase the lifespan of roundworms in a recent study by the Katholieke University in Belgium. The researchers suggest there's a strong possibility this effect could be replicated in humans.
The team is pushing to test it out in the next couple of years in a major study, with the aim of eventually getting approval to put it on the market specifically as an anti-ageing pill.
The trial will take around five years and involve analysing the effects of Metformin on 3,000 people in their 70s, located at centres across the US. It would be much faster than trials of most new drugs – it has already been used to treat diabetes for years, so it's known to be safe. Usually, a new drug must go through multiple tests on animals and humans before it can reach this stage.
If the results are positive and approval is gained, it will be groundbreaking – never before in medicinal history has a drug been prescribed to increase life expectancy.
How likely is it Metformin will be put on the market?
The scientists must seek approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to go ahead with the trial, and it's still not certain that's possible. Ageing has not traditionally been regarded as a health condition, and for that reason it might not be viewed as something that warrants medical treatment.
If the FDA does give it the green light, however, the next challenge will be getting hold of the funding to carry out the trial. Overall, it is estimated it'll cost $50m (£33m), and the researchers have nowhere near this amount yet. There's a chance they'll find it difficult to persuade a company to fund a drug that isn't patented anymore.
That said, it's not out of the question – the scientists are reportedly being supported by the American Federation for Ageing Research during the planning stages, and are holding discussions with a few potential backers for the later stages, including the US National Institutes of Health.