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July 26, 2013
How Rapamycin Extends Lifespan: Not By Slowing Down Aging
A few years ago, there came the interesting news that rapamycin looked as if it prolonged lifespan in mice. That result is robust; it's been replicated. Now a large multicenter effort in Germany has looked closely at this effect, and they have many more details about what's going on.
The big question is: does rapamycin extend lifespan through some general effect on aging, or does it work through a non-aging mechanism (by perhaps suppressing tumor formation)? Now, many people wouldn't find that much of a distinction - would you like a drug that makes you age more slowly, or would you like one that keeps you from getting cancer? The answer would probably be "Yes". But it's a question that very much matters biochemically.
And it turns out that it's the latter. This new paper does a very careful examination of many phenotypes of aging, on both whole-animal and tissue levels, and finds that rapamycin treatment does not really seem to affect age-related changes. What changes they did see on rapamycin treatment were also present in young mice as well as older ones, making them less likely to be an underlying cause of the effect. They now believe that the compound's effect on lifespan is entirely, or almost entirely, due to the lower rate of fatal neoplasms.
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