Elixir from Easter Island?
Rapamycin was found in soil on Easter Island 40 years ago. The antibiotic is normally used to prevent organ rejection and is being tested as a cancer treatment. Now, scientists have shown that it also extends the lifespan of mice. Most significant, their study reveals molecular pathways involved in ageing.
The mice were aged about 18 months, the equivalent of about 60 years old in humans, when they received the drug. Rapamycin was able to extend their lives by an extra third, compared with the average lifespan of this strain of mouse. This surprised the team, but it is good news because it would be much better to treat people only when they approach old age.
Further research into the medicine and how it works on ageing is essential. One of rapamycin’s side effects is that it suppresses the immune system (which is why it is used in organ transplants). So the next step is to look at the protein affected by the drug – mTOR – and attempt to design new compounds that target this pathway without the immune related side effects.