I post this not because it has any new information (it doesn’t). Rather, I post it because I’m surprised that USA Today is actually covering rapamycin. It truly is starting to hit the mainstream (USA Today is about as “mainstream” as you get in the media world. Its been called “McNews” due to its short-form, minimal information type of format), but at least this example of the coverage is reasonably accurate, if not particularly in-depth:
The field is known by many names: longevity, geroscience, anti-aging. Regardless of the name, it’s still in the early stages. Several drugs may have the ability to postpone or prevent the onset of debilitating diseases. Animal studies have demonstrated their potential, and now clinical trials are beginning to assess whether their promise holds true in humans.
“I think it’s certainly legitimate to ask why we haven’t done that previously,” Kaerberlein said. “And in part it’s because we really haven’t had the knowledge base to be able to do that.”
One promising drug is rapamycin. It’s an antifungal approved by the FDA as an immune suppressor to prevent organ recipients from rejecting a new organ. The compound was first discovered on the remote island of Rapa Nui, or Easter Island.
Rapamycin inhibits a protein called mechanistic target of rapamycin (mTOR). The protein senses nutrients and then controls cell outputs regulating many processes in the cell.
Giving rapamycin to yeast, worms, flies and mice prolonged their lives, studies have shown. Scientists began exploring rapamycin’s anti-aging effects in people, and studies suggest this immune-suppressing compound can actually improve immune function in older adults boosting their response to flu shots and lowering their odds of getting severely ill during cold and flu season.
According to Kaerberlein, rapamycin doesn’t kill the senescent cells but has an effect he describes as putting a gag on them, shutting off their inflammatory signals.
“I think that’s a pretty clear example where you can imagine multiple age related diseases being improved by a single treatment,” Kaerberlein said. He leads a rapamycin trial in dogs, which suffer similar age-related decline as humans but live much shorter lives.
Studies in mice have suggested that rapamycin may have beneficial effects on age-related cognitive decline and improve function of the heart and ovaries. The drug may also affect periodontal disease. Mice treated with rapamycin had less gum inflammation and even regrew bone around their teeth. But that doesn’t mean rapamycin will work in people.