Daniel Lemire's blog

, 2 min read

Are we really testing an anti-aging pill? And what does it mean?

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a clinical trial for “an anti-aging pill”. The pill is simply metformin. Metformin is a cheap drug that is safe and effective to treat type 2 diabetes, an old-age disease. While it has been a part of modern medicine for a few decades, Metformin actually comes from the French lilac, a plant used in medicine for centuries. The study is called TAME for “Taming Aging With Metformin” or MILES for “Metformin in Longevity Study”. The trial has been driven by Nir Barzilai, a reputed professor of medicine. What does it mean?

  • As far as I can tell, this is the first time the FDA allowed trials to treat aging as a medical condition. The people who will participate are not “sick” per se, they are just “old” and likely at risk to be soon sick because of aging. How this was approved by the bureaucrats of the FDA is beyond me.- You probably know people who take metformin. You probably don’t know anyone who is 120. So chances are that this clinical trial will not show that metformin can add decades to your life. However, it was observed that people who have diabetes and take metformin can live longer than otherwise healthy people who do not take metformin. Moreover, mice who take metformin live longer. So it is likely that metformin will have a small positive effect. The gain could be just a few extra months or weeks of health. Note that it is not expected that metformin would extend life by preventing death while letting aging continue. It is likely that if metformin has any effect at all, it will be by delaying diseases of old age.
  • Did I mention that metformin is cheap and safe? That means that if it works, it will be instantly available to everyone on the planet. Indeed, it is cheap enough to be affordable even in developing countries. (TAME is funded by a non-profit, the American Federation for Aging Research.)

If successful, this trial would have shocking implications. It is widely believed that aging is unavoidable and untreatable. Maybe you can lose weight and put on some cream to cover your wrinkles, but that’s about it. However, if it were shown that a cheap drug costing pennies a day (literally!) could delay the diseases of old age even just by a tiny bit… It would force people to rethink their assumptions.

Will it work? We shall know in a few years.

(For the record, I am not taking metformin nor am I planning to take any in the near future.)

Further reading: Description of the clinical trial: Metformin in Longevity Study (currently recruiting).

Related books : Mitteldorf’s Cracking the Aging Code, Fossel’s The Telomerase Revolution, de Grey’s Ending Aging, Farrelly’s Biologically Modified Justice and Wood’s The Abolition of Aging.