Patients scrambling to try Type 2 diabetes drug that could extend longevity

What if there were a way to stave off the creaks and calamities of old age? Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, is working on it.

With word leaking out, seniors from all over the globe have been hounding Dr. Barzilai and his colleagues to get in on the action—with many writing to prove their worthiness. Never mind that formal patient recruitment is still perhaps a year away.

One 71-year-old sent a photo of himself along with a note: “still do 100 push ups every day!” A retired engineer disclosed his schedule: “Completing 2 crosswords a day; walking for 30-45 minutes daily; playing the piano for one hour a day; consuming 1000 mg of turmeric.”

“I constantly worry, how long will I be able to work; will I ever be able to retire and will I be able to care for myself when I’m older?” another prospective volunteer wrote.

“All humankind is waiting and watching,” wrote a 76-year-old who teaches “Introduction to Twitter” at a senior center in Las Vegas.

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Would-be participants—from Cherry Hill, N.J., the Four Corners area of New Mexico, the Netherlands and beyond—have inundated Dr. Barzilai with calls and letters. Other researchers in the project have been swamped as well.

Behind the mania is a widely used, inexpensive generic pill for Type 2 diabetes called metformin. Scientists are planning a clinical trial to see if the drug can delay or prevent some of the most devastating diseases of advanced age, from heart ailments to cognitive decline to cancer. To test the pill, gerontologists at 14 aging centers around the U.S. will follow 3,000 seniors for six years. Half the seniors involved would get the drug, while the others would receive a placebo.

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