Meet rapamycin, our latest hope for the fountain of youth.
Check out all those chiral centers, it’s freaking cyclical and everything!!! Can you BELIEVE it???
As published in Nature, the experiment went thusly: Researchers fed rapamycin to 20 month old mice (they were going to start earlier, but had apparently had some issues) and found that they lived much longer than the controls – 14% longer for females and 9% for males. This probably means Jack to you, so let me put it in human terms.
The treatment started when the mice were the equivalent of 60 years old, and it added an average of 13 years to their life. In the words of yon media release “this would be greater than the predicted increase in extra years of life if cancer and heart disease were both cured and prevented.” Wowzers. You couldn’t make that sound more dramatic if you TRIED!!!
As you would expect for something that looks so intricate, it’s made by a microbe. In this case, by a soil-dwelling bacteria called Streptomyces hygroscopicus. It is also known as sirolimus, and was first discovered on Easter Island in stunning want-to-go-there Polynesia.
The study of aging is called gerontology, and I was interested to read that one method to slow down the aging process is caloric restriction. Eat less, live longer. Now I feel bad about the giant bowl of pasta I had for dinner. Delicious though it may have been, was it really worth a week of my life?
Rapamycin inhibits cell division and the functionality of certain T-cells, and as such is used as an immunosuppressant to prevent post-transplant organ rejection, and is considered a potential chemotherapy agent. It’s also an antifungal. Interested in chemical synthesis? Who isn’t! Check it out here, yet another shameless Wikipedia plug brought to you by Captain Skellett 🙂
Now before we all get overexcited and start racing for old age, remember that mice are not little people! There are plenty of biological difference between people and mice, and the success of this trial does not mean that the road to a therapeutic will be easy. In fact, seeing as it’s currently being used as an immunosuppressant, it would actually be dangerous. That said, to quote Randy Strong, (love the name) Ph.D. “we believe this is the first convincing evidence that the aging process can be slowed and lifespan can be extended by a drug therapy starting at an advanced age,” and it represents a big-ass milestone on the road, rocky though it might be.