Is this the future?
Could we extend lifespan to 120 years or more using a drug called rapamycin?
No, in a word. But the science is so fascinating, I want to share it here.
Rapamycin was discovered in the 1970s during a worldwide search for new antibiotics. It is developed from a soil microbe found only on mysterious Easter Island, a remote outcrop of land far out in the southern Pacific Ocean. In animal tests, it increased life expectancy for females by a staggering 38 per cent; males a more modest 28%.
So it should be great for us, we take it and we live longer, yes? Unfortunately, rapamycin is an immune suppressant and it’s likely to shorten your life, due to cancer or infections, rather than lengthen it.
Well, that’s what the boffins say; they have to.
But in fact the experimental animals didn’t fall foul of this immune suppression. They lived way longer, period.
Around a quarter of the mice were given a normal diet, the others rapamycin. The drug increased the maximum life span of the mice from 1,094 days to 1,245 days for females, and from 1,078 to 1,179 days for males.
From the point the mice began the treatment, the drug extended the females’ life expectancy by 38 per cent, and males by 28 per cent. Overall it expanded their life span by 9 to 14 per cent.
What amazed the scientists is that the drug worked even though the mice started to be given it only in middle and old age. In the study, reported today in the journal Nature, scientists tested rapamycin on nearly 2,000 laboratory mice aged around 600 days – roughly the equivalent to a 60-year-old person.
The drug, rapamycin, has been used for years to suppress the immune systems of organ transplant patients. It is also employed in heart operations and is being tested for its anti-cancer properties.
So, disappointing maybe. But who knows what’s just around the corner from here?