Elixir of life? A breakthrough anti-aging drug may be just around the corner

The elixir of life just took on a whole new meaning.
Fabienne Lang
Anti-aging tablets stock photo.
Anti-aging tablets stock photo.


Imagine taking a medicinal drug and staying young longer, not to mention healthy, too. It's the stuff of fairytales and Disney movies.

But, such an anti-aging drug doesn't just belong in movies or stories. Researchers have long been searching for anti-aging medicine that keeps you healthy. And such a drug exists: Rapamycin.

Rapamycin is already known for its anti-aging effects in experimental studies on lab animals when given throughout the animal's entire life span. However, this lifelong dosage has negative side effects.

Now, researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging in Cologne, Germany, have discovered that just a brief exposure to the drug can have the same anti-aging and health span effects as the lifelong dosage – without the bad side effects. This may open new, life-long doors for human consumption.

The team published its findings in the journal Nature Aging.

What is rapamycin, and how can it help?

Let's face it, we're all living longer nowadays. So we may as well do so with more comfort and ease. Hence, researchers have been focusing their energy on and putting a lot of funding into finding anti-aging antidotes.

Currently, the most promising anti-aging drug is rapamycin – a cell growth inhibitor and immunosuppressant that is normally used in cancer therapy and after organ transplantations. It needs to be taken on a lifelong basis in order to have the desired anti-aging effect. However, rapamycin has some negative side effects when used consistently over a long period of time, which makes it unviable for people wanting to combat the effects of age.

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That's why the team at the Max Planck Institute decided to find out whether or not the drug could have the same anti-aging effects if taken only for a brief amount of time without giving the same negative side effects.

Brief exposure

After testing varied brief exposures of the drug on fruit flies, the team discovered that a brief window of two weeks of the treatment in young, adult flies protected them against age-related pathology in the intestine and kept them alive longer. Similarly, a short time window of three months for three-month-old young adult mice had the same positive effects.

"We also found that the rapamycin treatment had the strongest and best effects when given in early life as compared to middle age. When the flies were treated with rapamycin in late life, on the other hand, it had no effects at all. So, the rapamycin memory is activated primarily in early adulthood," explained Dr. Thomas Leech, co-author of the paper.

All in all, more research needs to be carried out before the team can trial the drug on humans, but the results are positive. For now, though, it looks like the drug can be administered over a shorter period of time to young adults – the effects were not as positive when given to older adults – and can age someone better and more healthily.

Prof. Linda Partridge, the senior author of the study, commented that "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 since, ideally, the period of treatment should be minimized. It may be possible also to use intermittent dosing. This study has opened new doors but also raised many new questions."

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