How to cure aging: One drug can extend life span

Scientists discovered a drug that can extend the life span in mice. Stopping aging before it begins, some experts think, is one way to live forever.
Written by Boonsri Dickinson, Contributing Editor

Scientists believe they've found a drug that can slow down premature aging in mice and could one day be used to extend human life. This is the story of a drug called rapamycin, nicknamed the forever young drug. The key chemical in this drug was discovered in the soil on the famed, remote Easter Island, reports Technology Review.

Previously, the drug's wonderful fountain of youth effects were seen in only in invertebrates such as fruit flies, yeast and nematode worms, where it helped cells manufacture new proteins and kept bad cells at bay. But now, the scientists are seeing that it has similar effects on the aging process in mammals.

In the study published in Nature, scientists show that when rapamycin is administered to mice as a food supplement, it expands their life span. Now in human years, that would translate to an extra decade of a healthy living. The work was the result of three separate studies conducted at a number of institutions including Jackson Laboratory. The independent groups reported their results to the National Institute of Aging's Interventions Testing Program, which aims to investigate which drugs might slow down aging in mice.

According to Technology Review:

"People who study the biology of aging feel that in order to deal with diseases of aging, it's much more efficient to target underlying mechanisms, rather than focusing on heart disease or cancer or diabetes or Alzheimer's or Parkinson's separately," says David Harrison, a researcher at Jackson Laboratory. "If we could alter underlying mechanisms of aging, all of these things would be postponed."

The researchers think that the drug could target the same pathway that occurs when the body is put under a calorie restriction diet, a technique used for extending life. Calorie restriction dates back to 1934, after it became known that cutting calories extended the lifespan of rats.

However, it is not known just how effective this drug would be in humans, considering its known side effects of pneumonia and fungal infections. Still, scientists are more hopeful that it could be used to keep old age diseases under control. It could buy more time by simply slowing the progression of diseases such as Alzheimer's and diabetes, resulting in a longer, healthy life span for humans the way it did in mice.

The wonder drug was previously used in children with the condition called Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome, a rare condition that makes kids die of old age by the time they are only 12 years old. The condition is caused by a build up of protein in cells in the body. The drug cleans the cells of this toxic protein, and has been approved by the FDA. It's used to suppress the immune system in patients who just had organ transplants.

Scientists will need to figure how to get around of some of the drug's side effects like pneumonia, before other applications of this anti-aging drug has legs. It's not like healthy people who want to live forever will be taking this regularly.

On a fundamental level, the drug gets rid of the junk that harms cells. The drug cleans out the waste from cells and organs, Dimitri Krainc, told The Telegraph. Using it to get the waste management system into gear would extend the life of our cells and organs, and keep us healthier as a result.

The famous gerontologist Aubrey de Grey thinks we can actually "cure" aging by preventing molecular and cellular damage before it spins out of control. De Grey tells Reutersthat, ""if we could do that in the case of certain modified forms of cholesterol which accumulate in cells of the artery wall, then we simply would not get cardiovascular disease." In other words, try to stop cellular damage before it becomes pathogenic and we can live for a long time.

De Grey is featured in an upcoming documentary, named How to Live Forever. The trailer looks pretty good. I'm looking forward to seeing a screening of it this weekend. Leave me a comment if you want me to ask De Grey any questions:

First Drug Shown to Extend Life Span in Mammals [Technology Review]

Photo: NASA image by Earth Observatory

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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