Over the centuries, many have searched for a fountain of youth, including 16th Century explorer Juan Ponce de Leon; however, none met with success. Some of today’s scientists are focusing their research on slowing the aging process, and they have attained some—albeit limited—success. The latest study on aging was conducted by researchers affiliated with the National Institutes of Health (NIH). They published their findings on August 29 in the journal Cell Reports.
In a mouse study, the investigators found that reducing the activity of one type of gene increased the average life span of the mice by about 20%; this is comparable to extending the human life span by about 15 years (i.e., from 75 to 90 years). In addition, they found that memory, cognition and some other important traits were better preserved in the mice as they aged, compared to a control group of mice that had normal levels of a protein released by the gene.
The researchers focused on the mTOR gene, which other studies have found to be a regulator of the aging process. They found that mice with two copies of the gene produced the protein at approximately 25% of that of mice without the gene. Mouse studies are not always reproducible in humans; however, the study authors note that the results raise the possibility that targeting the gene with drugs that inhibit its activity might one day be at least part of a strategy for prolonging longevity in humans. An immunosuppressant known as rapamycin is currently on the market. It can decrease the activity of the aging gene; however, the researchers caution against taking this or similar drugs at present because they have side-effects. Thus, they should only be taken for currently approved uses. They note that major obstacles exist in regard to translating the findings to humans. For example, research must be conducted on whether inhibiting the action of mTOR would have similar life-extending effects, and if it did whether the benefit would come without unwanted problems.