Aging: Is there a cure for this in development?


People have been eating herbs, drinking all kinds of concoctions, and slathering themselves with oceans of potions in order to stay healthy, and in order to look young and beautiful for as long as possible. Pharmaceutical companies that make medicines, and cosmetics companies that make the lotions have been on the hunt for the Fountain of Youth for a long, long time. Well, there is now a company called resTORbio that is testing a potential medicine to slow down the process of aging. Far out!

First the basics: Where do we get medicinal ingredients from? So many of the medicines that are used today are derived from plants or other natural sources. For example, the antibiotic penicillin comes from mould, the anti-cancer medicine taxol comes from the bark of the Pacific yew tree, a medicine to help people with diabetes was derived from the saliva (spit) of the gila monster (a type of lizard)! The list goes on.

Many times, while these medicines are being tested to see how much they can help people with a disease, or how ‘effective’ they are at treating that disease, the researchers will find other diseases that the medicine can help with. These are other ‘indications’.

taxol, made from the bark of the Pacific yew tree
The bark of the Pacific yew tree. Credit: The National Cancer Institute

Got it! What’s all this about anti-aging? In the 1980s, a medicine called rapamycin was isolated from soil bacteria – this was found to help patients who were receiving organ transplants. This same medicine was found to lengthen the life span of some creatures like worms and mice and It is now being tested for this ability to help slow down the process of aging in humans. This, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the most sought-after ‘indications’ – the Holy Grail, some might say, of medicine. How to stop humans from growing old!

How in the world would you measure this? Well, that’s the difficult part. So the scientists at resTORbio have hypothesised that one of the things that happen when people grow old, is that their immune systems (what fights off infection) get weaker. So they are testing the ability of the medicine to improve the immune systems of older people in their clinical trial. Pretty ingenious!

Will this work? We will know in about a year. If it does, and if there are no really significant side effects, this could be a pretty important discovery!

Written by: Sunaina Murthy

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