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Aging Well

A Drug to Slow Aging

A drug called rapimycin may mimic the effect of dietary restriction, one of the most-researched methods for slowing the aging process, according to an article published in The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences/em> in June 2014.

A release from the gGerontological Society of American notes that rapamycin, an antibiotic and immunosuppressant approved for use about 15 years ago, has drawn extensive interest for its apparent ability — at least in laboratory animal tests — to emulate the ability of dietary restriction in helping animals to live both longer and healthier.

However, this medication has some drawbacks, including an increase in insulin resistance that could set the stage for diabetes. The new findings help to explain why that happens, and what could be done to address it.

The results suggest that a combination of rapamycin and another drug to offset that increase in insulin resistance might provide the benefits of this medication without the unwanted side effect.

The release quotes Viviana Perez, PhD, an author on the new article and an assistant professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics in the Oregon State University College of Science, as saying, “This could be an important advance if it helps us find a way to gain the apparent benefits of rapamycin without increasing insulin resistance. It could provide a way not only to increase lifespan but to address some age-related diseases and improve general health. We might find a way for people not only to live longer, but to live better and with a higher quality of life.”

Age-related diseases include many of the degenerative diseases that affect billions of people around the world and are among the leading causes of death: cardiovascular disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.

Laboratory mice that have received rapamycin have reduced the age-dependent decline in spontaneous activity, demonstrated more fitness, improved cognition and cardiovascular health, had less cancer, and lived substantially longer than mice fed a normal diet.

Rapamycin, first discovered from the soils of Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, in the South Pacific Ocean, is primarily used as an immunosuppressant to prevent rejection of organs and tissues. In recent years it was also observed that it can function as a metabolic “signaler” that inhibits a biological pathway found in almost all higher life forms — the ability to sense when food has been eaten, energy is available, and conditions are favorable for cell proliferation, protein synthesis, and growth to proceed.

Called mTOR in mammals, for the term “mammalian target of rapamycin,” this pathway has a critical evolutionary value — it helps an organism avoid too much cellular expansion and growth when energy supplies are insufficient. That helps explain why some form of the pathway has been conserved across such a multitude of species, from yeast to fish to humans.

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