In work that risks rousing a chorus of tuts from the older members of the population, scientists have extended lifespan by making youth last longer.
The remarkable discovery came from tests which showed that a drug capable of prolonging life by more than 30% worked by expanding only young adulthood, and had no effects on later life stages.
For now though, any fears of a world overrun with energetic teenagers are premature, since the youth-bringing compound has only been demonstrated in millimetre-long roundworms in a lab in California.
“We don’t want people to get the impression they can take the drug we used in our study to extend their own teens or early twenties,” said Michael Petrascheck who led the study at the Scripps Research Institute.
“Even if the molecule does the same thing in humans there may be side effects we don’t see because the tissue just doesn’t exist in worms. The worms only have 1000 cells and we have 100 trillion. There is a lot that works differently.”
To emphasise his point, Petrascheck mentions that roundworms live longer when they are given pergolide, an anti-Parkinson’s drug, which was withdrawn from the market in 2007 when it was linked to heart disease. “You don’t see that side effect in worms,” he said, “because the worms don’t have hearts.”
The scientists made their discovery while testing a long list of compounds for any that might prolong the short lives of the short worms. When early hints suggested that the antidepressant mianserin extended their lifespan, the scientists set about testing it more thoroughly.