Medication may help slow aging (in fruit flies)

According to an article from the UK-based New Scientist masquerading as a press release ("Keep young and beautiful", by Claire Ainsworth 26 January 2002), a drug called 4-phenylbutyrate (PBA) may help to "extend your lifespan while maintaining your youthful health and vigour. What's more, in the US it's already approved for human use. There is just one snag: to reap the benefits, you have to be a fruit fly."

A team of researchers at the National Institutes of Health and the California Institute of Technology made the discovery by accident when they were testing PBA on flies with neurodegenerative disease. They found that feeding the drug extended maximum lifespan of healthy flies by over 50 per cent, and their average lifespan by one-third. PBA works by blocking the activity of histone deacetylases, enzymes involved in switching genes on and off, including the one for superoxide dismutase, a protein well known for its anti-ageing effects. The researchers will be testing the drug on mice very soon.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (vol 99, p 838).

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