mTOR and the fountain of youth
The fountain of youth might be just right around the corner, I know here at the labs we’ve reported several different ways to get to that fabled place, but now we have one more. New research shows that seniors received a significant boost to their immune systems when given a drug that targets a genetic signaling pathway linked to aging and immune function.
The experimental medication, a version of the drug rapamycin, improved the seniors immune response to a flu vaccine by 20 percent. According to the researchers this study is a “watershed” moment for research into the health effects of aging.
Dr. Nir Barzilai (who wasn’t involved in the study) said this is one of the first studies to show that these drugs also can delay the effects of aging in humans.
“It sets the stage for using this drug to target aging, to improve everything about aging,” he said.
“That’s really going to be for us a turning point in research, and we are very excited.”
The mTOR genetic pathway promotes healthy growth in the young. But it appears to have a negative effect on mammals as they grow older. When drugs like rapamycin are used to inhibit the effects of the mTOR pathway in mice, they seem to extend lifespan and delay the onset of aging-related illnesses.
The team decided to investigate whether a rapamycin-like drug could reverse the natural decline that elderly people experience in their ability to fight off infections.
In the clinical trial, more than 200 people age 65 and older randomly received either the experimental drug or a placebo for several weeks, followed by a dose of flu vaccine. They chose the flu vaccine because the flu is particularly hard on seniors, with people 65 and older accounting for nine out of 10 influenza-related deaths in the United States. (This is according to background information provided by the researchers.)
Those who received the experimental version of rapamycin developed about 20 percent more antibodies in response to the flu vaccine, researchers found. Even low doses of the medication produced an improved immune response.
The researchers also found that the group given the drug generally had fewer white blood cells associated with age-related immune decline.
This study is the “first baby step,” and was reluctant to say whether it could lead to immune-boosting medications for the elderly.
“It’s very important to point out that the risk/benefit of MTOR inhibitors should be established in clinical trials before anybody thinks this could be used to treat aging-related conditions,” Dr. Joan Mannick, lead author said.
Research such as this could revolutionize the way age-related illnesses are treated.
“Aging is the major risk factor for the killers we’re afraid of,” Barzilai said, noting that people’s risk for heart disease, cancer and other deadly illnesses increases as they grow older.
“If the aging is the major risk, the way to extend people’s lives and improve their health is to delay aging.”
Until science focuses on aging itself, you’re just exchanging one disease for another. For example,a person receiving cholesterol-lowering treatment to prevent heart disease likely will instead fall prey to cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.
It should also be mentioned that the drug maker Novartis funded the study, and while it is unlikely they would lie about this since they have something to gain from this research, other studies should probably be done before drawing any serious conclusions. Nevertheless, it would be nice to add a few more good years to a life, as they say, “Youth is wasted on the young.”
Mannick, J., Del Giudice, G., Lattanzi, M., Valiante, N., Praestgaard, J., Huang, B., Lonetto, M., Maecker, H., Kovarik, J., Carson, S., Glass, D., & Klickstein, L. (2014). mTOR inhibition improves immune function in the elderly Science Translational Medicine, 6 (268), 268-268 DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.3009892