COLLEGE STATION -- A common over-the-counter drug that tackles pain and fever may also hold keys to a longer, healthier life, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientist.
Regular doses of ibuprofen extended the lifespan of multiple species, according to research published in the journal Public Library of Science-Genetics.
"We first used baker's yeast, which is an established aging model, and noticed that the yeast treated with ibuprofen lived longer," said Dr. Michael Polymenis, an AgriLife Research biochemist in College Station. "Then we tried the same process with worms and flies and saw the same extended lifespan. Plus, these organisms not only lived longer, but also appeared healthy."
He said the treatment, given at doses comparable to the recommended human dose, added about 15 percent more to the species lives. In humans, that would be equivalent to another dozen or so years of healthy living.
Polymenis, who also is a professor in the biochemistry and biophysics department at Texas A&M University, collaborated with Dr. Brian Kennedy, the president and CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California, along with several researchers from Russia and the University of Washington.
Ibuprofen is a relatively safe drug that was created in the early 1960s in England. It was first made available by prescription and then, after widespread use, became available over-the-counter throughout the world in the 1980s. The World Health Organization includes ibuprofen on their "List of Essential Medications" needed in a basic health system. Ibuprofen is described as a"nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug used for relieving pain, helping with fever and reducing inflammation."
Polymenis said the three-year project showed that ibuprofen interferes with the ability of yeast cells to pick up tryptophan, an amino acid found in every cell of every organism. Tryptophan is essential for humans, who get it from protein sources in the diet.
"We are not sure why this works, but it's worth exploring further. This study was a proof of principle to show that common, relatively safe drugs in humans can extend the lifespan of very diverse organisms. Therefore, it should be possible to find others like ibuprofen with even better ability to extend lifespan, with the aim of adding healthy years of life in people."
"Dr. Polymenis approached me with this idea of seeing how his cell cycle analysis corresponded with our aging studies," said Dr. Brian Kennedy, CEO at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California. "He had identified some drugs that had some really unique properties, and we wanted to know if they might affect aging, so we did those studies in our lab. We're beginning to find not just ibuprofen, but other drugs that affect aging, so we're really excited about it.
"Our institute is interested in finding out why people get sick when they get old. We think that by understanding those processes, we can intervene and find ways to extend human health span, keeping people healthier longer and slowing down aging. That's our ultimate goal."
Chong He, a postdoctoral fellow at Buck Institute and lead author on the paper, said looking deeper into the common drugs that target individual diseases might shed light on understanding the aging process.
"We have some preliminary data on worms that showed that this drug also extended the health span in worms," she said. "It made them live not just longer but also more healthy. You can measure the thrashing of the worms. If they're healthy, they do have a tendency to thrash a lot, and also we can measure the pumping as they swallow, because if they're healthy, the pumping is faster.
"Ibuprofen is something that people have been taking for years, and no one actually knew that it can have some benefits for longevity and health span."
The research was funded by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, the Ellison Medical Foundation and the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research.