Another Candidate for the Fountain of Youth?

There are countless supplements on the market that claim to be anti-aging, but many of these “magic pills” do not have any scientific evidence to back them up. Scientists are working on the idea, though. We’ve written before about metformin, a drug that is currently being studied for its anti-aging potential. However, another drug is also making a big splash in the anti-aging conversation. The drug, rapamycin, was discovered in 1999 and first studied in mice back in 2009. The study showed that rapamycin significantly extended the lives of mice. But could these results translate to humans as well?

What Is Rapamycin?
Rapamycin is an immunosuppressant, meaning that it reduces the effectiveness of the immune system. Because of this, it was first used to prevent organ transplant rejection. However, since then rapamycin has also been shown to prevent cardiovascular disease (in mice), and studies are underway to see if it could be an effective cancer treatment. Unfortunately, rapamycin has side effects. It can increase glucose and fat in the blood and cause insulin resistance, which may lead to diabetes.

What Does the Current Research Say?
Since the 2009 discovery, many studies have been performed on rapamycin, but no concrete conclusions have been reached. However, a new study out of the University of Texas performed on marmosets—monkeys with many similarities to humans—may shed some light on whether or not rapamycin really could add years to a person’s life.

During rapamycin treatment for 14 months, the monkeys had an initial loss of body fat, which stabilized after five months of treatment, and the researchers observed no increase in diabetes in the animals due to the treatment. In fact, overall they found that rapamycin improved certain aspects of health (such as diabetes risk) that could cause a person to live longer, and did not cause any notable side-effects. Based on these promising findings, researchers are planning further studies to better understand rapamycin’s overall positive and negative effects. So, we’ll have to wait, but maybe someday rapamycin will be studied for its anti-aging potential in humans—just like metformin.

(Feature photo courtesy of pixabay.com)

Matthew Poulsen

Matthew Poulsen is an intern with the Healthy Aging Project, and a student in the Integrative Physiology Department at the University of Colorado Boulder.