By Will Sansom
|Arlan G. Richardson, Ph.D., suggests it is time to begin human studies involving rapamycin, based on successful research in mice that shows increased life span and neuroprotective effects. Click on image for a larger view|
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One of the most famous discoveries in UT Health Science Center history is the finding that the drug rapamycin increases the life span of mice. Science
recognized this as one of the top 10 scientific breakthroughs of 2009.
Four summers later, Arlan G. Richardson, Ph.D., says current data from research “support the feasibility of clinical trials to study the efficacy of rapamycin in treating diseases of the elderly, especially those that are debilitating and for which no current treatment is known, such as Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative diseases.”
Dr. Richardson is a professor of cellular and structural biology in the School of Medicine, founding director of the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies and senior career research scientist with the South Texas Veterans Health Care System. He is the author of a commentary on rapamycin
in the August issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation
The commentary, titled “Rapamycin, anti-aging, and avoiding the fate of Tithonus,” asks what the data tell us about rapamycin’s ability to delay aging and improve quality of life. In Greek mythology, Tithonus is a prince of Troy who the goddess Eos kidnaps. She asks Zeus to make Tithonus immortal but neglects to ask for his eternal youth. Later, seeing that the aged Tithonus has lost all strength and babbles endlessly, she lays him in a room that is his eternal prison.Improving quality of life in aging
We don’t have to worry about existing forever in that state, but we do need to avoid years of disability. Dr. Richardson observes that, “In rodents, rapamycin increases life span and has a very broad effect on cancers, but the surprising thing in mice is that it seems to have a broad neuroprotective effect, including rescue of memory and learning and easing of depression and anxiety.
“Does rapamycin slow aging even as the animals have more problems?” he asks. “No, the mice seem to have reduced, or at least not increased, problems. We’ve shown it could be used for a variety of age-related diseases, including Alzheimer’s and cancer. We should be thinking about doing some human tests with rapamycin.”