They don't look anything like a glass of Merlot, but these pills activate the same gene as a beneficial compound found in red wine. The pill is designed to treat diabetes, but researchers have zeroed in on the gene as a key to controlling aging.
"This is not science fiction anymore," said Christoph Westphal of Sirtris Pharmaceuticals. "We are actually talking about real drug candidates in human studies targeting diseases of aging by targeting the genes that control the aging process."
Previous research in animals showed that genes activated by special calorie- restricted diets extend lifespan by improving metabolism. So researchers at Sirtris Pharmaceuticals looked for molecules that can activate these genes.
Their first candidate is an enhanced version of the red wine compound resveratrol. They showed it can control diabetes in animals and are now testing it in people with diabetes.
As they wrote in the journal "Nature," they've now discovered other molecules that, in animal tests are a thousand times more potent.
"So these are the kind of things that you could imagine taking one small pill once a day," said Westphal.
The Sirtris CEO says they're focusing on one disease of aging, diabetes, because the FDA doesn't class aging itself as a disease.
"Sirtris is focused on developing drugs that would be approved by the Food and Drug Administration. We're very focused initially on developing drugs to treat diabetes," Westphal said.
But since these genes have also been shown to stop other diseases of aging, like cancer and Alzheimer's, Westphal says the company is well aware of the possibilities.