In their study, published in PNAS, Lissa and colleagues looked for drugs that could kill tetraploid cells but leave healthy diploid cells relatively intact. After screening a panel of 480 bioactive chemicals from a database at Harvard Medical School, they came up with two hits: aspirin and resveratrol.

Aspirin is a common presence in the medicine cabinet and has an excellent record against disease. Almost all of us have enjoyed its headache-relieving properties, and many old people are advised to take small doses of aspirin to protect their hearts. There is also evidence that aspirin can prevent colon cancer.

Those of us who enjoy red wine are ingesting resveratrol on a regular basis. It is also found in red grapes, peanut butter, dark chocolate, and blueberries. While it is still not certain exactly what protective effects resveratrol has against disease, there are suggestions that it can prolong lifespan, protect the heart, and prevent certain forms of cancer.

When researchers looked closely at the fates of both dangerous tetraploid or normal diploid cells treated in a dish with their two drug hits, they observed that unhealthy cells were controlled at least partially through the activation of signals that coaxed them into committing suicide.