The US Food and Drug Administration gave the green light for human testing of the world's first anti-aging drug.
According to The Telegraph, scientists believe the widely-used and affordable diabetes medication metformin has the potential to slow down the aging process so dramatically, people could live past 120 years old.
If the drug proves to have the same effect on humans as it has on animals, an individual in his or her 70s could possess the health of someone 20 years younger, and age-related diseases such as cancer and dementia would be on the brink of extinction.
Previous studies found metformin allows microscopic worms and mice to age slower and maintain good health for longer periods, with the latter creature experiencing a 40 percent increase in lifespans.
Another study conducted at the UK's Cardiff University last year determined human diabetics who were given metformin actually lived longer than people without diabetes.
Set to take place next winter, clinical trials will include approximately 3,000 people, aged 70 to 80, who either have or are at risk of developing cancer, dementia or heart disease.
Among the advisors for the trials is Professor Gordon Lithgow of California's Buck Institute for Research on Aging.
He reportedly said,
If you target an [aging] process and you slow down [aging] then you slow down all the diseases and pathology of [aging] as well. That's revolutionary… Twenty years ago [aging] was a biological mystery. Now we are starting to understand what is going on.
Metformin studies suggest the drug makes cells more durable and less susceptible to malfunction by allowing them to receive more oxygen.
This appears to be the key to erasing diseases like cancer, which flourishes when cells lose their ability to prevent mutations as they divide over time.
Finding a cure for cancer would only increase life expectancy by three years, Professor Lithgow added, whereas an anti-aging drug could possibly extend the average lifespan much farther.
The Telegraph reports he said,
We know that it is possible for handfuls of people to live to very old age and still be physically and socially active, so clearly they carry some kind of protection in their bodies. They are essentially not [aging] as quickly. If we can harness that, then everyone can achieve those lifespans.
In the UK, the current life expectancy for a woman is 82.8 years compared to 78.8 years for a man.
Professor Lithgow predicted an anti-aging drug will eventually be used as a vaccine, impacting the health of the entire population.