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A study in roundworms suggests a hypertension drug may help slow aging processes. Design by MNT; Photography by MirageC/Getty Images & yuanyuan yan/Getty Images.
  • Humans are always searching for ways to slow aging and extend their lifespans.
  • Researchers from the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom say the hypertension drug rilmenidine could be repurposed to help increase a person’s lifespan.
  • Scientists reported that the drug mimics a caloric restriction diet, which has been long considered an anti-aging intervention.

From the Fountain of Youth to the Holy Grail, humans have always been looking for a way to slow or reverse aging and extend their lives.

Thanks to today’s scientific advances, people now age slower and live longer. The average life expectancy jumped from 66.8 years in 2000 to 73.4 years in 2019. And recently, a woman in Spain was recognized as the oldest living person in the world at the age of 115.

Now, researchers from the University of Liverpool in the United Kingdom, in collaboration with the Institute of Translational Medicine in Switzerland, and Harvard Medical School in the United States, argue that a hypertension drug called rilmenidine could be repurposed to help increase a person’s lifespan.

Scientists demonstrated these benefits using a roundworm model and searched for known compounds that mimick a caloric restriction diet.

The study recently appeared in the journal Aging Cell.

Rilmenidine is a prescription drug sometimes marketed under the brand names Hyperium, Albarel, Tenaxum, and Iterium. It is used to treat hypertension, or high blood pressure.

According to Dr. João Pedro Magalhães, corresponding author of the study, currently chair of molecular biogerontology at the University of Birmingham — who was at the University of Liverpool during the time this research was conducted — scientists previously performed a computational analysis to identify existing drugs that may mimic caloric restriction.

“Caloric restriction — reducing the amount of calories without malnutrition — is the most robust and consistent method of extending lifespan and delaying aging,” he told Medical News Today.

“However, caloric restriction has a number of side effects, and therefore identifying compounds that mimic the benefits of caloric restriction is of great interest and importance,” Dr. Magalhães added.

“Our computational method works by identifying drugs that exhibit molecular signatures similar to caloric restriction and allowed us to identify various compounds as candidates for slowing aging.”

“We previously published on another candidate, allantoin, but then decided to focus on rilmenidine because it is orally available with human clinical uses and modest, rare side effects,” he continued. “Therefore, it is an attractive drug for repositioning for other age-related diseases and anti-aging in general.”

For this study, Dr. Magalhães and his team used an animal model, the roundworm Caenorhabditis elegans, which he said lives only a few weeks.

“We found that animals treated with rilmenidine live significantly longer, about 20%, than controls,” he detailed. “We also found lifespan and healthspan benefits in both young and old animals.”

“Then we looked at health markers and found that animals treated with rilmenidine are healthier for longer, meaning that both lifespan and health span are extended by rilmenidine treatment,” Dr. Magalhães added.

Dr. Magalhães said that because rilmenidine is already used in the clinic, including by older individuals, is orally available, and has rare and non-severe side effects, repurposing it for other clinical applications is plausible.

“Although of course, more work is necessary to establish its effectiveness in the context of other age-related diseases,” he continued.

At this stage, Dr. Magalhães said he can only speculate when we might see doctors able to prescribe rilmenidine as an anti-aging intervention.

“At the moment there is no such thing as an anti-aging prescription, even though there are a few drugs that have been touted [as] having potential anti-aging properties,” he explained. “From a regulatory perspective, it’s also unclear whether drugs can be prescribed for aging, though we and others [have been] pushing in this direction.”

“I do think it will be possible to repurpose longevity drugs, including rilmenidine, for other age-related diseases, subject of course to more studies,” Dr. Magalhães added.

“In other words, I think first we will see longevity drugs being repurposed for other age-related diseases and, if successful, I envision a future where we have longevity drugs used as anti-aging as a form of preventive intervention or prophylaxis.”

MNT also spoke with Dr. R. Sean Morrison, the Ellen and Howard C. Katz Professor and Chair for the Brookdale Department of Geriatrics and Palliative Medicine at Mount Sinai, about this study. He commented:

“Scientific studies have demonstrated that caloric restriction can increase the lifespan in a number of studies, although employing this strategy in humans is difficult and not very practical — people do not like to feel hungry all the time. One research strategy has been to identify drugs that may mimic the effect of calorie restriction at a cellular level and to see if these medications can also improve life-span.”

Dr. Morrison said while this early study is encouraging, we are light-years away from being able to say anything about this research with respect to human aging.

“This study needs to be replicated again in the worm model and then studied in more complex species before any conclusions can be drawn,” he added. “I for one am not investing in rilmenidine stock yet.”