Is rapamycin effective in prolonging human life?

A promise for more years on Earth can potentially be obtained through a drug called rapamycin – sounds intriguing, right?

Longevity studies reported the possibility of rapamycin in delaying aging, reducing diseases and increasing lifespan. The question is, can it really be the key to prolonging human life?

Many scientists are excited about investigating rapamycin and determining innovative strategies in relation to lengthening the lifespan. The idea involves mTOR and autophagy at the forefront in extending life using rapamycin

Rapamycin increases lifespan in animal studies 

Currently, rapamycin is an FDA-approved drug that is used in preventing organ transplant rejection and treating certain cancers [1]. It is a compound released by a bacterium that is scientifically called Streptomyces hygroscopicus [2]. 

Researchers in longevity and antiaging studies have been truly intrigued about the possibility of rapamycin in increasing lifespan in humans as it showed promising results in animal experiments. 

In animal models, it was discovered that rapamycin could prolong the life of many species of the following: 

  • mice [3]
  • yeast [4]
  • fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) [5]

Rapamycin is found to increase median life expectancy by up to 60 percent among animals. During the first rapamycin therapy administered in middle-aged mice, an increase of 60 percent in life expectancy was observed by the scientists [6]. 

Then, when rapamycin was initiated in elderly male and female mice that were equivalent to over 60-year-old humans, the female mice achieved an increase in their lifespan by about 14 percent while males obtained a 9 percent increase in lifespan. The results can be converted to an increase of more than seven years in human life. 

Enhanced immune function by rapamycin

With the positive findings in animal studies, many scientists are convinced that rapamycin can potentially be used in humans to increase lifespan. 

Is rapamycin effective in prolonging human life?
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For instance, a group of researchers wanted to determine the effects of mTOR inhibition brought by rapamycin on human aging-related conditions like immunosenescence, which is a decline in immune function experienced when you age. 

The clinical trial in elderly adults aged 65 years and above found that once-weekly dosing of a rapamycin derivative called everolimus, which has properties virtually the same as rapamycin, strengthened their immune systems. The researchers evaluated the elderly participants through their enhanced response to the influenza vaccine by about 20 percent [7]. 

Moreover, the study marked an important contribution to longevity research as it suggests a scientific way to help elderly people in improving their immune systems, which is quite a relevant health issue when you age. 

Unlike in your 20s and 30s, the immune function of elderly people declines, which may lead to an increased risk of developing fatal diseases. Hence, rapamycin is believed to help in increasing human lifespan; however, its potential is not limited to enhancing immune function.

How does rapamycin work?

Throughout the years of rigorous research on rapamycin, all study results contributed to the discovery of a new understanding of cellular biology and the aging process; and mTOR and autophagy both play a vital role in the health and aging process of all living organisms.

Rapamycin inhibits mTOR and allows the activation of the autophagy process that basically restores your youthful metabolic functions. Research discovers that rapamycin can delay the onset of numerous age-related diseases that apply to human health [8]. 

So, what are mTOR and autophagy? 

The mTOR stands for ‘mammalian target of rapamycin’, which is a protein that helps manage several cell functions like cell division and survival and binds to rapamycin and other drugs [9]. This protein sends signals to the cell to activate cellular metabolism when calories are available for them. 

The protein mTOR basically tells the cell to use the calories in building new proteins, new enzymes, fat stores and other cellular components. Also, when mTOR is activated, it starts anabolic or building processes of cell growth and proliferation.

Meanwhile, autophagy refers to the process in which damaged proteins, excess fat and other worn cellular components are broken down to reuse or removed. In fact, autophagy is known to be like a worker doing a cellular housekeeping process or cellular trash removal. 

The health problem occurs when chronically activated mTOR–which can be obtained by relentless calorie ingestion–precludes healthy autophagy. 

Relationship between mTOR, autophagy and rapamycin 

In short, eating more often can hinder the health-beneficial process of autophagy and fasting or eating less may promote it. Eating too many times can cause over-activation of mTOR and does not allow autophagy to perform its function. 

Consequently, an imbalance may occur that contributes to major factors leading to fatal health issues, including cancer, obesity and type 2 diabetes. 

As the autophagy process can be activated when calories are absent, some types of diets may help, particularly intermittent fasting and time-restricted eating, which both refer to eating patterns that suggest eating less, following a scheduled eating time and taking food in limited amounts. 

Among the popular diets is the 16:8 protocol, which suggests consuming all your food within an eight-hour period and leaving 16 hours solely for fasting. Surely, autophagy can be activated with the diet due to a long time of no calorie intake. 

Correcting the imbalance between mTOR and autophagy is not also that easy through fasting or dieting, though. Some individuals may not reduce body fat through fasting and still need additional support from compounds to induce autophagy–rapamycin is the leading candidate. By inhibiting mTOR, rapamycin imitates calorie restriction and fasting.

Is rapamycin effective in prolonging human life?
Photograph: tenkende/Envato

Doses when taking rapamycin 

Presently, taking rapamycin is FDA-approved for kidney transplants and cancer. The following doses are the appropriate doses of rapamycin, depending on where to use it. 

  • During kidney transplants – rapamycin is advisable to be taken orally by the patients as a tablet, or those who can’t swallow pills may take the liquid solution. Your health professional may also advise you to take the rapamycin pills with food or a large glass of water or orange juice.

    A note to remember is that rapamycin is not safe to take with grapefruit juice and must be taken at the same time and in the same way daily. You should also consult with your physician about the frequency and certain special instructions. 
  • Treating certain types of cancer – rapamycin treatment is commonly given through an IV. It usually takes around 30 minutes to be administered.

    Your rapamycin dose depends on how your body tolerates it, the side effects experienced and the impact on your current medical condition. This is according to the advice of a medical professional. 
  • Possible dose for longevity – Scientists found that taking five to six milligrams of rapamycin for one time every week can partially inhibit mTOR. This enables autophagy to be expressed on a periodic basis, providing a wide range of health benefits.

    Having a well-balanced mTOR and autophagy can result in detoxification, renewal and revitalization of every cell in your body. This basically means that your body can function optimally and efficiently. 

However, considering rapamycin for potential life extension is quite premature in the field of science. Hence, many studies still need to conduct in order to identify the best dosage and frequency of rapamycin intake.

There are numerous longevity professionals and enthusiasts doing self-experimentations and looking at taking five to six milligrams once weekly. 

Who can possibly use rapamycin for longevity purposes? 

The use of rapamycin for longevity purposes is preferable and appropriate for 30 years old and above. However, the age for the possible use of rapamycin in terms of longevity is not yet scientifically agreed upon. 

The mTOR can regulate the growth activities in cells, and childhood, adolescence and young adulthood are all periods of rapid growth. It would be inappropriate to advise young people to take rapamycin. However, as mentioned, there is no agreed-upon age when to start taking rapamycin [10].

In mice studies, it was shown that the increase in life expectancy was even impactful when rapamycin was initiated in middle-aged mice. On the other hand, as scientists have been eagerly waiting for the results from present human rapamycin studies, the delays in suppressing excess mTOR and activation of autophagy may potentially diminish the longevity-enhancing benefits.

Rapamycin as a possible life-extension drug

Scientists are intrigued by the antiaging effects of rapamycin. This is particularly in preventing age-related diseases, improving the quality of life of patients and extending lifespan. Rapamycin can be an effective compound to increase both the health and lifespan of humans [11]. 

Rapamycin improves autophagy in the body when it inhibits mTOR. It is known to simultaneously boost the process and stop unhealthy cell growth.

As a result, the body can delay the onset of the aging process and age-related diseases. Thus gives people a longer and healthier life. 

Additionally, rapamycin is believed to be used as a topical drug to help reduce sagging skin and photoaging and enhance dermal volume on hands. Thereby slowing the process of skin aging. However, a topical rapamycin cream to be added to cosmetics can be far from reality today. 

Similarly, many researchers are positive that we might be able to use rapamycin for longevity in the future. 

[1] https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/nda/99/21083A.cfm 
[2] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12742462/ 
[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3434687/ 
[4] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19458476/ 
[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2824086/ 
[6] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27549339/ 
[7] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25540326/ 
[8] https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33037985/ 
[9] https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/mtor
[10] https://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2022/6/rapamycin 
[11] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6814615/ 

Photograph: YuriArcursPeopleimages/Envato
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