Fountain of Youth could just be only a pill away.
Researchers at Northwestern University say a drug that blocks a protein produced by aging cells in your body could control how fast you grow older.
They were contacted by the Palo Alto Longevity Prize to compete against teams from all over the world for $1 million.
The protein, known as plasminogen activator inhibitor-1, or PAI-1, normally helps control the body's clot-dissolving system. Douglas Vaughan, chairman of the Department of Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, believes controlling the protein is a way to prolong life.
"The biology of aging is becoming more evident every day that goes by," said Vaughan, who is also physician-in-chief at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. "We're understanding that there are specific changes about cells and tissues as they age, and that there are markers that aging cells make and it's possible to identify those molecules and theoretically slow down the aging process.
In the Palo Alto competition, teams can enter one or both of two categories. The $500,000 Homeostatic Capacity Prize is given to the team that can turn back the clock in a mammal. The second is the $500,000 Longevity Demonstration Prize, which is given to the team that can extend the life span of a mammal by 50 percent.
Although the deadline for registration was Dec. 31, the competition will not end until 2019 because different therapies have to be tested.
"I think this competition puts a spotlight on aging, and the fact that this science is advancing very rapidly," Vaughan said. "We're excited to participate because we think we can make a contribution to the understanding of the aging process in mammals. Almost any disease you can think of is highly dependent upon age."
"Aging is the most important risk factor of heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases," Vaughan said. "We all want to have a longer, healthier life span. I don't think people want to live a long time and be infirm, but if you can maintain your vitality and function, I think that's a pretty desirable goal."
The Palo Alto Longevity Prize is funded by Joon Yun, president of Palo Alto Investors, which was founded in 1989 with $1 billion in assets invested in health care.
Living a healthy life for 120 years is not unreasonable in the next few years, Powers said.
"I think the public would be surprised at how much is going on in science in general and specifically in this area," Powers said.