March 15, 2010

Followers of To Age Or Not To Age may be interested in this study on the effect of rapamycin (a compound found in bacteria from Easter Island) on elderly mice, which was reported in an article by Brandon Keim, Cancer Drug Delays Aging in Mice, originally published in Wired on July 8, 2009.

According to the article,

“the study provides compelling evidence that pharmacologically slowing the process of aging itself may be possible.”

Gerontologist, Dr. David Harrison, who was involved in the research, states

“…the treatment didn’t start until the mice were the equivalent of a 60-year-old human. No other intervention has been so effective starting late in life.”

A total of 1,900 twenty-month old mice (the equivalent of early old age in humans) were fed rapamycin.  The average date at which 90% of the mice died rose by approximately one quarter in male mice and two-fifths in females.  The study found that rapamycin had little effect on younger mice.

Dr. Stephen Austad, an evolutionary biologist featured in To Age Or Not To Age, commented on the results of the study,

“If they had asked me, I would have suggested to forget even doing this experiment as the animals were too old to show any effect…boy, was I wrong about that.”

We can always depend on Dr. Austad, a former Hollywood lion trainer, for a memorable quote!

How does rapamycin work?  The answer is, it’s unclear, but the article goes on to explain that rapamycin targets a gene called mTOR (mammalian target of rapomycin) which

“produces an enzyme necessary for triggering a cascade of cellular signals involved in regulating cell growth, breakdown and mitochondrial function.

Some evidence suggests that mTOR’s pathway shares many functions and genes with the sirtuin pathway targeted by resveratrol. The extent of the overlap is unclear, but both appear to be involved in processes affected by caloric restriction.” 

Dr. David Sinclair of Harvard notes,

“There are only a handful of really crucial pathways that control lifespan.  These pathways all talk to each other. You can think of them not as separate, but as part of a larger network of pathways that are communicating and working in concert.”

Now that scientists know where to look and what to look for, more compounds will be identified, and then improved upon, and this will happen sooner than the present estimates.



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