UCSF has had a bit of success in some of their age-defying research on immunosenescence, the phenomenon in which immune systems weaken in the elderly making them more susceptible to infections and other health issues. Preliminary research from the lab of Dr. Edward J. Goetzl demonstrated a relationship between levels of certain cytokines (mainly IL-2, IL-17 and TNF-alpha), and susceptibility to infection. They found that elderly people who had equivalent levels of these cytokines as 20 year olds stayed healthier.
Under the assumption that correcting these cytokine levels will improve immune function in the elderly, UCSF researchers sought out a wonder drug to alter these cytokines and discovered that Lenalidomide, an agent used to combat certain forms of cancer, had the desired effect with minimal side effects. Lenalidomide is a derivative of thalidomide, a drug developed in the 1950s that caused horrific birth defects and basically began the study of teratogens (drugs that cause birth defects).
In a study of low dose Lenalidomide given to healthy seniors, lenalidomide significantly boosted production of the desired cytokines in the test subjects. Whether this is a revolutionary drug or another dead end remains to be seen, as future studies are now planned to study whether the increase in cytokines is associated with decreases in infections and health complications.
From the UCSF press release:
In this study, the team tested the drug in healthy seniors, each of whom were matched in race, gender and national origin to a healthy young adult participant. They found that extremely low levels of lenalidomide — 0.1 μM – optimally stimulated IL-2 production in the young people (21-40 years) roughly sevenfold, but stimulated IL-2 production in patients over age 65 by 120-fold, restoring them to youthful levels for up to five days. At that dosage, the drug also increased IFN-gamma up to six fold in the elderly patients, without suppressing IL-17 generation.
The researchers also found that lenalidomide had many other beneficial effects on the elderly participants’ T cells, including better migration throughout the body, more efficient patrolling activity and longer survival after defending the body against an infection.
The team plans to begin larger-scale clinical trials in 2011 to test the drug’s effectiveness and hopes for broader availability within a few years.
Press release: UCSF “fountain of youth” pill could restore aging immune system …
Abstract in Clinical Immunology: Preferential enhancement of older human T cell cytokine generation, chemotaxis, proliferation and survival by lenalidomide
Image credit: Wanderlinse