The term “rescue dog” could be taken to a whole new level if exciting anti-aging research being conducted on middle-aged canines is soon applied to humans.
Researchers at the University of Washington’s Dog Aging Project have completed a phase one 10-week trial in which rapamycin, an FDA-approved organ-transplant and cancer drug, was administered in low doses to 16 aging dogs. Imaging results show the drug makes the dog’s heart more youthful in both appearance and functioning.
These results follow testing on middle-aged mice which showed rejuvenation in their bodies and a 10% increase in the length of their lives .
Aging specialist Arlan Richardson, PhD, of the University of Oklahoma is a believer in rapamycin. Dr. Richardson has been giving his Tibetan terrier MoMo low-dose rapamycin for a serious heart problem. He says MoMo’s heart problem has stabilized and the canine companion looks and acts younger than his 14 years, with no negative side effects seen with repeated blood testing.
The benefits in severely ill pooches appear to be even more remarkable. Sherman, a 13-year-old Pomeranian, suffered a stroke in 2015 and was given two months to live. He was so weak, he had to be hand-fed and carried around everywhere.
With few options available, his owners started Sherman on rapamycin under a vet’s supervision. The results were fast and impressive. Three days after his first dose, Sherman was eating on his own. By day seven he was walking. Sixteen months later, Sherman is active and running around his back yard.
What’s The Magic in Rapamycin?
The big question here is what makes a medically accepted anti-rejection drug a possible anti-aging elixir.
In mice, it has been shown that rapamycin turns on a process called autophagy or “self-eating,” in which a cell goes through a renewal cycle to get rid of its damaged parts. Rapamycin activates a number of processes in the cell renewal process including recycling, clearing cellular debris, and removing damaged mitochondria. What’s more, the drug was even shown to help create pristine new mitochondria, the powerhouses of cellular energy.
Rapamycin wields another tool in the quest for healthy longevity. It extends the life of individual cells by tricking them into thinking there are not enough nutrients in their immediate environment. The cells respond by slowing down, which in turn slows down the aging process. Along with providing a boost to cellular longevity, rapamycin may also be slowing down the progression of all age-related diseases.
There are significant concerns, however. In cancer patients and organ recipients, severe side effects including infections, diabetes, anemia, cancer and elevated lipid levels have been reported when large doses of rapamycin are given. In successful animal studies, the key has been to carefully administer the appropriate low dose to derive anti-aging benefits without the serious side effects.
For dog lovers and veterinarians, the risk seems to be worth taking. The drug may extend the life of a beloved pooch by a few years, along with giving the pet renewed energy and a significant delay in the onset of age-related conditions .
Outlook For Human Use
But can these results be applied to humans?
Using rapamycin in human trials has not begun in earnest. However, one small but interesting 2014 study was conducted on elderly volunteers in Australia and New Zealand. Researchers found that limited doses of rapamycin improved the test subjects’ immune response to the flu virus when taken in conjunction with the flu vaccine. They reported that rather than suppress immunity, in low doses rapamycin seemed to modulate the immune system for improved response to the virus.
While this one small study is by no means conclusive proof that rapamycin can delay the aging clock in humans, it is a step in the right direction. But further human trials may rest on the success of slowing the aging process in large animals like dogs.
Matt Kaeberlein, a researcher with the Dog Aging Project, is optimistic that his team’s results may pave the way for humans. He points out that both dogs and their humans are affected by many of the same environmental influences. If rapamycin helps in reversing some of the negative environmental factors related to aging in dogs, it just might hold promise in humans too.
If Dr. Kaeberlin is correct, look for human studies to begin that may help many of us to enjoy a longer, healthier life.
- Rapamycin is giving aging dogs a new lease on life.
- Anti-rejection drug, rapamycin, shows promise as an anti-aging elixir.