Using complex genetic data analysis and testing, scientists from the University of Liverpool have shown for the first time that allantoin can mimic the effect of calorie restriction and increase lifespan in worms by more than 20%.
The chemical compound is found in botanical extracts of the comfrey plant and is an ingredient of many anti-ageing and cosmetic creams; and has now been shown to imitate the life-extending effects achieved through the starvation diet – which is a reduction in calorie intake without malnutrition that has been found to slow down the ageing process.
According to the research team who carried out this latest study, developing drugs that can reproduce this effect, without the side effects, could have widespread human applications.
“Calorie restriction has been shown to have health benefits in humans and, while more work is necessary, our findings could potentially result in human therapies for age-related diseases,” Dr João Pedro de Magalhães, from the University’s Institute of Integrative Biology.
In their work, the team of scientists identified potential calorie restriction mimetic compounds, and made use of existing molecular signatures from human cells treated with a variety of small-molecule drugs.
Using pattern-matching algorithms to make connections between drug compounds and calorie restriction effects, eleven potential compounds were identified. Five of these were then tested in nematode worms.
The researchers found that worms treated with the skin care ingredient not only lived longer, but also stayed healthier longer.
Additionally, when the compound was tested in mutant worms it extended lifespan in a way expected from calorie restriction.
Despite being a common ingredient in many cosmetic applications, this is the first time allantoin has been studied in terms of ageing and calorie restriction.
“The next step for us is to understand the mechanisms by which allantoin extends lifespan, as this could reveal new longevity pathways,” says PhD student Shaun Calvert, who carried out the work.