UCSF researchers have identified an existing medication that restores key elements of the immune system that, when out of balance, lead to a steady decline in immunity and health as people age.
The team found that extremely low doses of the drug lenalidomide can stimulate the body’s immune-cell protein factories, which decrease production during aging, and rebalance the levels of several key cytokines A immune proteins that either attack viruses and bacteria or cause inflammation that leads to an overall decline in health.
The initial study, which was designed to define the dose range of such a therapy in a group of 13 patients, could lead to a daily pill to boost immunity in the elderly, the researchers said. Data will appear in the January issue of the journal Clinical Immunology, and can be found online at www.elsevier.com/locate/yclim.
The identification of a drug to reverse the immunological decline in aging, known as immunosenescence, is the culmination of years of research by Edward J. Goetzl, MD, at UCSF and the National Institute on Aging, into how cytokine levels change as people age, how that varies by gender, and which changes dictate whether someone will be healthy into their 90s or begin a downward cycle of decline starting in middle age.
“No one’s really talking about longevity and lifespan now, but about ‘health span,’” said Goetzl, director of UCSF Allergy and Immunology Research, which focuses on developing new diagnostics and treatments for allergic and immunological diseases.
“If, at age 50, your cytokine levels are the same as they were at 25, you’ll probably stay healthy as you age,” he said. “But if they’re heading downhill, we need to do something about it. If you could take a low-dosage pill with no side effects, wouldn’t you do it?”