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The BBC's Christine McGourty reports
"The quest for eternal youth has occupied people for centuries"
 real 56k

Biologist Dr Gordon Lithgow
"We're very confident the results are indicating something important"
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Thursday, 31 August, 2000, 18:09 GMT 19:09 UK
'Anti-age' drug found
Middle-aged people
Anti-ageing research might one-day lead to a fitter and longer retirement
For the first time, scientists have succeeded in boosting an animal's life span with drugs.

Microscopic worms given the therapy lived nearly 50% longer than normal.

The researchers say the experiments are the first real indication that ageing can be treated.

They believe the drugs might be useful for combating human diseases that strike in later life.

Clinical trials for disorders such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's could take place in the near future.

'Youthful and active'

"As far as we know, this is the first convincing example of drugs being used to extend life span," said Dr Gordon Lithgow of the University of Manchester, UK, who carried out the research along with colleagues in the United States.

He said the drugs had an anti-ageing effect on the worms.

Nematode worm
The nematode worm C. elegans usually lives for about 20 days (Photo Dr Matthew Gill, University of Manchester)
"The treated worms appear youthful and active at the same time as when the untreated worms are showing the characteristics of old age," he told BBC News Online.

The nematode worm Caenorhabditis elegans was used in the studies.

This tiny creature has been studied in the laboratory for many years. One of the first living things to have its genome decoded, around 40% of the worm's genes are also found in humans.

The scientists added a cocktail of two synthetic drugs to the medium in which the worms, when kept in the laboratory, live and reproduce.

Both of the drugs are antioxidants. They mimic the effect of natural enzymes that mop up free radicals - highly reactive molecules that damage cells.

When given the drugs, the worms lived on average nearly 50% longer than normal.

Fighting free radicals

The reason, the scientists believe, is that the drugs prevented free radical damage.

Other experts say the research is interesting but must be duplicated in creatures other than the worm.

"The idea that antioxidants might have an effect [on ageing] has been around for quite a long time," said Professor David White, director of science at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, UK, which is funding research into the science of ageing.

"It seems to have a dramatic effect in worms," he added.

"Whether it will have the same effect in other organisms will have to be established."

The research is published in the journal Science.

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10 Dec 98 | Sci/Tech
Small worm makes history
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The science of ageing unlocked
11 Jan 00 | Medical notes
Health and ageing
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