Scientists say rapamycin, also used after organ transplantation, can extend lifespan with short use
COLOGNE, Germany — A drug patients normally take during cancer therapy may extend human lifespan, a new study reveals. Researchers in Germany say rapamycin can cause side effects when patients use it as a lifelong anti-aging treatment. However, their new report shows that even short-term use can have a dramatic impact on longevity while reducing side effects.
Rapamycin is a cell growth inhibitor and immunosuppressant that people normally take during cancer treatment or after an organ transplant. However, a team at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging notes that the drug is also a promising anti-aging formula. Animal studies have shown that low doses of rapamycin can extend lifespan by preventing age-related changes in the gut. Until now, however, scientists have seen this drug as something that patients would have to take for the rest of their lives.
“At the clinically used doses, rapamycin may have undesirable side effects, but for the use of the drug to prevent age-related decline, these should be absent or minimal. That’s why we wanted to know when and for how long to give rapamycin to achieve the same effects as a lifelong treatment,” said lead researcher Dr. Paula Juricic in a university publication.
Patients may only need treatment with rapamycin for weeks or months
The new study tested rapamycin in two short-term experiments involving fruit flies and lab mice. The first treated young adult flies for two weeks. The second treated young adult mice (3 months old) for a period of three months. In both experiments, the team found that rapamycin had a beneficial effect on the gut health of any middle-aged animal.
“These short drug treatments in early adulthood provided as strong protection as the continuous treatment started at the same time. We also found that rapamycin treatment had the strongest and best effects at a young age compared to middle age. In contrast, when the flies were treated with rapamycin at a later age, it had no effects at all. Thus, rapamycin memory is primarily activated in early adulthood,” explains Dr Thomas Leech, co-author of the paper.
“We found a way to circumvent the need for chronic, long-term intake of rapamycin, so it might be more practical to apply it in humans,” adds co-author Dr. Yu Xuan Lu.
“It will be important to discover whether it is possible to achieve the geroprotective effects of rapamycin in mice and in humans with treatment starting later in life, as ideally the treatment period should be minimized. It may also be possible to using intermittent dosing. This study has opened new doors, but also raised many new questions,” concludes senior author Prof. Linda Partridge.
The study is published in the journal Nature aging.