The search for eternal youth has never been so laborious. From the stars of Silicon Valley research centers around the world are full of lotions, supplements, serums and diets. There is a substance in this melee that is hitting several hits.
Rapamycin, an FDA approved drug normally used to prevent organ rejection after transplant surgery, has shown great anti-aging capabilities.
The last point is that rapamycin can also slow down the aging of human skin, according to a study conducted by researchers at Drexel University College of Medicine just published in Geroscience.
All the basic scientific studies already done had shown the drug's ability to slow aging in mice, flies and worms, but this is the first to show effects on aging in human tissues.
Rapamycin administered topically reduces any signs of aging.
The changes are relevant and include the reduction of wrinkles, the relaxation of skin tone and a more uniform appearance.
"In a period of continuous research of ways to live longer, we see the growing potential of this drug grow ", he claims Christian Sell, associate professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the College of Medicine.
"Consider human skin. It's a complex organism with immune, nerve, stem cells. You can learn a lot about the biology of a drug and the aging process by looking at the skin."
A systematic review
In the current study conducted by Drexel, 13 participants over the age of 40 applied rapamycin cream every 1-2 days on one side and a placebo on the other for eight months.
The researchers examined the subjects after two, four, six and eight months, and also performed biopsies and blood tests.
After eight months, most parts treated with rapamycin showed increased collagen proteins and significantly lower levels of p16 protein, a key indicator of cellular aging of the skin.
Skin with lower p16 levels has fewer senescent cells, which are associated with skin wrinkles.
Younger, elastic, resistant skin
And it's not just a cosmetic issue: Higher p16 levels can lead to skin atrophy, a common condition in the elderly, which is associated with fragile skin that tears easily, slows healing after cuts, and increases the risk of infection or complications after an injury.
What is the role of rapamycin in tissue rejuvenation?
Rapamycin blocks the "rapamycin target" (TOR), a protein that acts as a mediator in human cell metabolism, growth and aging.
Rapamycin's ability to improve human health beyond outward appearance is further emphasized when looking deeper at the p16 protein, which is a stress response human cells undergo when damaged, but is also a way to prevent the cancer. The response of these cells to rapamycin helps prevent cancer because rapamycin slows down the cell cycle process.
"As cells age, they become harmful and create inflammation", says Sell. By keeping inflammation at bay, we keep even worse consequences at bay.
In addition to its current use to prevent organ rejection, rapamycin is currently prescribed (at higher doses than those used in the current study) as an anticancer drug and for the treatment of a rare lung disease, the lymphangioleiomyomatosis.
The current Drexel study confirms that at low doses rapamycin has a "second identity" like that of a superhero. Studies also point to its ability to increase human lifespan or improve human performance.
Rapamycin, a world to be discovered
Rapamycin (first discovered in the 70s in bacteria found in Easter Island soil) also reduces stress in cells by attacking free radicals.
The researchers note that, as this is initial research, many questions still remain about how to take advantage of this drug.
Future studies will examine how to apply rapamycin in clinical settings and find applications in other diseases.
Christina Lee Chung, Ibiyonu Lawrence, Melissa Hoffman, Dareen Elgindi, Kumar Nadhan, Manali Potnis, Annie Jin, Catlin Sershon, Rhonda Binnebose, Antonello Lorenzini, Christian Sell. "Topical rapamycin reduces markers of senescence and aging in human skin: an exploratory, prospective, randomized trial." - GeroScience, 2019; DOI: 10.1007/s11357-019-00113-y