Researchers have developed a new experimental drug that prolongs the lifespan of mice genetically engineered to age more rapidly, a development that may one day lead to treating human conditions that cause accelerated aging.

After recently identifying key proteins that play a critical role in cell and physiological aging, researchers designed a drug that inhibits the protein's effect, which led to rapidly aging mice fed the drug living more than four times longer than a control group.

Moreover, the mice given the drug also showed signs that their lungs and vascular system were protected from accelerated aging.

If eventually developed for human use, the drug may be able to treat conditions that lead to accelerated aging, such as chronic kidney disease, diabetes and HIV infection as well as the effects of cigarette smoking, Northwestern University said in a statement.

The research was published in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences.

"A drug like this could help reduce complications in clinical conditions that reflect accelerated aging," senior study author Douglas Vaughan, M.D.,said in a statement. "This had a very robust effect in terms of prolonging life span."

Vaughn and his collaborators have spent the last 25 years doing the research that led to the development of this new drug, which is known as TM5441.

Using mice that had been engineered to age more rapidly than normal, the researchers incorporated TM5441 into their food every day. Mice that took the drug exhibited a quadrupled lifespan while their vital organs remained healthy and functional.