Researchers have found that a drug normally used to treat skin cancer may delay the onset of age-related deaths by slowing the aging process in fruit flies.
The researchers said the result is "a significant step on the way to developing treatments that delay the onset of aging in humans within the next 10 years".
Adult fruit flies given the drug Trametinib live 12% longer than average, the results showed.
The drug targets a specific cellular process - the effects of a protein called Ras - that occurs in animals, including humans, delaying the onset of age-related deaths by slowing the aging process.
"We were able to extend their lifespan both genetically and by using a cancer drug to target the Ras pathway which provides us with the first evidence for the anti-aging potential of drugs developed to dampen this pathway," said study co-first author Dr Nazif Alic from University College London (UCL).
"Identifying the importance of the Ras-Erk-ETS pathway in animal aging is a significant step on the way to developing treatments that delay the onset of aging," co-first author Cathy Slack from UCL Institute of Healthy Aging, said.
"The pathway is the same in humans as it is in flies and because the Ras protein plays a key role in cancer, many small molecule drugs already exist, some of which have been approved for clinical use," Slack said.
"With support from Pharma, we can refine these molecules over the next 10-20 years to develop anti-aging treatments which do not have the adverse effects of cancer drugs."
In the study, the researchers found that the flies exposed continuously to the drug from an earlier stage in life lived longer than those who began dosing later in life, possibly indicating a cumulative effect of the drug.
"Death still seems to be inevitable, but we now have evidence to suggest it is possible to develop pharmacological treatments to keep us healthier for longer," principal examiner professor Dame Linda Partridge from UCL said.
The study was published today in the journal Cell