Healthier Together: Anti-aging medicines could curb cancer

SEATTLE — The fountain of youth, curbing aging, extending life — it all sounds like science fiction or something much further into the future, but that may not be the case for much longer. Seattle’s Fred Hutchison Cancer Center says medicine is under development to curb the aging process. They’re called anti-aging medications, and researchers are optimistic that these drugs could also help curb cancer.

Ming Yu is a researcher and scientist at Fred Hutch and has a focus on gastrointestinal cancers. She admits also that the idea of anti-aging medications combatting cancer does sound farfetched.

“People will ask, anti-aging how is that to do with cancer prevention,” right? said Yu.

For pretty much all of human existence, aging has been a sold fact of life, nobody has been able to truly reverse or stop the process to a degree that seemed to truly add years of life, or prevent age related diseases. New medications, though, may not stop the march to old age but could help contain it.

Dr. William Grady, a professor at Fred Hutchison Cancer Center, also admits that the cocktail of meds in development sounds a bit too good to be true.

“It really does sound like the holy grail or fountain of youth,” said Grady.

Both researchers that spoke to KIRO 7 say that the meds, at least some of them, may help control aging by getting rid of “zombie cells” – as if anti-aging medication did not sound enough like science fiction rather than science fact. Apparently, killing zombies can indeed preserve your life.

According to the National Cancer Institute, cells age and stop dividing, but don’t die and remain in your body. Over time, the zombie (also called senescent) cells build up in the body and release harmful substances that may cause cancer. Grady is familiar with the process.

“The senescent cells are actually part of some normal processes that occur in our bodies like healing normally when that healing process occurs the body gets rid of them, and we think that clearance process doesn’t work as well as we get older,” said Grady.

Yu says the medicines could help everyone of all ages eliminate one thing that could cause cancer.

“They can cause the zombie cells to die without harming the normal cells…it does look very promising and I do think that’s also my goal, not only to help people live longer, but also live healthier and hopefully cancer-free,” said Yu.

The National Library for Medicine says Metformin, Rapamycin, Resveratrol and Sirtuin are anti-aging meds being researched at the moment.

Grady says until now, cancer prevention was mostly in the realm of the mundane: healthy diet, exercise and adequate rest.

“The main reason people get cancer is because we get older,” said Grady.

He suspects killing off zombie cells, and halting some aging could be a new form of cancer prevention.

“It is an out-there idea, which is why we got particularly excited about it… when we treat cancer cells with these anti-aging therapies, and get rid of these chemicals and substances that these zombie cells make, we can actually see reversal of the pro-cancer formation or pro-cancer effects of these zombie cells,” said Grady.

Yu and Grady say clinical trials are running on anti-aging meds. The admit fully that the meds would not cure cancer, but if it could prevent it *and* keep people feeling young and healthy it would be a huge shift.

Yu says more work is needed.

“It’s probably going to be a long ways to go, but I think for everybody out there, I want them to be hopeful,” said Yu.

While Grady says the prospect of using anti-aging meds, and not having to do current cancer therapies, like surgery or chemotherapy, would be a victory, since those processes are often invasive, difficult, and sometimes unable to truly get rid of cancer.

“Anything we can do to prevent that, in my view, is a win,” said Grady.