Can Bacterium Found on Easter Island Slow The Effects of Aging?
By: Gaia Staff | May 9th, 2017
Easter Island’s Miracle Drug
About 45 years ago a team of researchers took a trip to Easter Island, home of the mystical and monolithic Moai stone heads, to collect soil samples. What one researcher found could be the key to extending our lives, as it has been proven to do just that in mice.
Suren Sehgal, brought back a bacterium, called Streptomyces hygroscopicus, that he named Rapamycin after the indigenous name of Easter Island, Rapa Nui. This bacterium can only be found on Easter Island. He studied the samples for years, intrigued by the properties he saw in them, until his laboratory was shut down and he was told to destroy all research that hadn’t been officially approved.
Sehgal snuck out samples of Rapamycin and continued studying them on his own. When the pharmaceutical company he worked for was acquired by a larger one, his study of Rapamycin continued. Its effects proved to be astounding and especially applicable for patients receiving organ transplants.
Later in his life, Suren Sehgal developed stage-4 colon cancer and was given two years to live. He started taking rapamycin and lived for another five years. However, he decided to stop taking it to see if it was what was keeping the cancer at bay. He died two months later.
Combatting the Aging Process
According to scientists that are studying how aging can be reversed or slowed, there is hope.
Aubrey de Grey, one of the biggest names in anti-aging research, says that, “aging is pretty well understood and the best of it is that not only can we enumerate the types of damage the body does to itself throughout our lives, we can also categorize them, classify them into a variable number of categories.”
Rapamycin essentially controls the pathways for growth and metabolism in humans and animals. It acts on the body’s ability to deal with reduced nutrition. So when the body isn’t doing well, it goes into a stress-averse mode. That mode is what rapamycin influences, by tricking the body into thinking its starving, and it works in slowing the aging process.
According to scientists studying the effects of it at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, rapamycin can improve cardiac and skeletal function while also increasing life span. They also found that it increased lifespan of mice by 60 percent in a relatively rapid onset model of disease.
Unfortunately, the down side to rapamycin is that it suppresses the immune system. This is unfortunate for the prospect that it showed a 14 percent increase in the lifespan of older female mice, which if applied to a female human would extend a 60-year-old’s life to the age of 95. However, for older humans, suppressing the immune system would obviously leave them susceptible to disease. The positive side is that it works perfectly for organ transplant patients.
Other Recent Findings
A research team at the University of New South Wales in Australia, recently found a protein that guards against DNA damage. They have found it to have anti-aging properties and are hopeful that it could be beneficial for astronauts, especially with the prospect of sending a manned mission to Mars in the near future.
A flight to Mars would lead to significant exposure to cosmic radiation, resulting in memory loss and muscle weakness, but also a 100 percent chance of astronauts getting cancer. You can even be exposed to cosmic radiation on a long international flight, to the same extent of an x-ray, so there could be practical use for frequent flyers.
The quest for the fountain of youth continues on, often with tech billionaires funding the research of the scientists studying it. Will we figure out a way to stop or at least slow down the process, or is it dangerous to try to prevent our own mortality?