Honest research?


News of the latest earth-shattering breakthrough crossed my desk last week, complete with the promise that this new treatment will stave off Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and will help me live to be 120.

Now, that makes me think about whether I actually want to live to be 120. Watching the natural progression of aging in myself, I have this feeling that 100 will be enough. I could do without the Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s though.

The new pill is actually an old pill called Metformin which is used in the treatment of diabetes, and the first trials on metformin will be next year in the hope it may return what is considered to be very promising. If successful, it would mean that a person in their 70’s could have the same biological age as a healthy 50 year old. Projecting that further, it might mean that at 120 the person will be like a spritely 100 year old?

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Professor Gordon Lithgow of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in California, who will lead the study, said, “If you target an aging process and you slow down aging then you slow down all the diseases and pathology of ageing as well. I have been doing research into aging for 25 years and the idea that we would be talking about clinical trial in humans for an anti-aging drug would have been thought inconceivable. But there is every reason to believe it’s possible. The future is taking the biology that we’ve developed and applying it to humans.”

According to the research people, they have already conducted tests on animals which show it significantly extends their lives.

Belgian researchers tested metformin on a species of roundworm and found that they not only aged more slowly, but also stayed healthier for longer.

Now that may be so, but also stretches research into incredulity. Animal experiments are generally done on species that have something in common with humans, hence beagles, laboratory rats and mice and the odd chimpanzee. But roundworms? Come on!

However, the Food and Drug Administration, the American regulator, has given the go-ahead for the same trials in humans, so if you find someone crawling along on their belly on your lawn, you’ve just spotted a 120 year old volunteer.

Scientists believe that metformin could hold the key to anti-aging because it boosts the number of oxygen molecules released into a cell. This appears to boost their strength and ability to survive for a longer period of time.

The trial, known as Targeting Aging With Metformin, or TAME, is due to begin in the US next winter.

Scientists from various universities and organizations are raising funds and attempting to recruit 3,000 adults aged 70 to 80 who have or are at risk of cancer, heart disease or dementia.

This is where the whole thing becomes more than somewhat silly. Everyone aged 70-80 is more at risk of cancer, heart disease or dementia than anyone younger. This easily proved.

And here is more evidence that academia can fiddle the figures when required. Cardiff University uncovered anecdotal evidence that patients given metformin for diabetes lived longer. Oh yes? This was despite the fact that those with the illness tend to have shorter life expectancies because they are more prone to heart attacks, strokes and kidney damage.

University researchers with “anecdotal evidence.” May I remind them that “evidence” requires hard facts, not anecdotes! And remind myself to steer clear of Welsh universities.

Never forget that what keeps scientific research going is “money”. When you have a research laboratory, you need money to keep it going. And the best way to raise money is to promise breakthroughs, especially cancer and anti-aging. Nobody wants cancer and nobody wants to die. As I write this, there are people scouring the globe looking for a “cure” for their cancer, and for many, there isn’t one, but they are prepared to clutch at straws. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t I? (No I wouldn’t.)

So should all the diabetics I know start celebrating while waiting for their expected century? No, is the answer, and that statement was all done without fancy titled “research” trials.