Two recent trials indicate that the family of rapalog drugs may extend humans’ healthy lifespan.
The family’s best-known member is rapamycin, which is used in organ transplants to suppress rejection.
In studies, rapalogs have shown an ability to extend the health spans of yeast, worms, flies, and mice by as much as 20 percent. That would extend today’s average human life from 78.6 years to 94.3.
Scientists have theorized that rapalogs impinge on so-called mTOR proteins inside cells that tell the cells which other proteins to make. These mTORS have been linked closely to the degeneration that marks the aging process.
To test the idea in humans, researchers at the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research injected 200 people with a rapalog called RAD001 over a series of weeks and then gave the subjects a flu vaccine.
Compared to people who received a placebo, those who took RAD001 had a 20-percent more effective response to the flu vaccine. The rapalog also seemed to suppress the absorption of a biomolecule that weakens the immune system as we age.
Last July, scientists at Novartis spin-off ResTORbio published the results of a study in which 264 people were divided into four groups: one took RAD001, another took a rapalog called BEZ235, a third group took both, and the fourth got a placebo. After six weeks, participants were given a flu vaccine.
A year after the study, the researchers found that the groups taking the drugs, individually or together, had 36 to 42 percent fewer respiratory infections during the study period and 33 to 38 percent fewer infections of any kind. The study team also found the drug-takers had produced more genes that help defeat viruses of all kinds.
A strong immune system helps people resist the general deterioration associated with aging, indicating rapalogs may extend healthy life.
Next, researchers will test rapalogs on people with specific chronic deteriorations, such as diabetes.
TRENDPOST: As medicine finds biologically-based ways to manage or cure a broader range of diseases, more research will be focused on extending human healthspan. By mid-century, biochemical methods will be in place to ensure that health and vitality can endure into our second century of life.

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