I have read that longevity, in parts of our country, is actually decreasing. A child born today, in certain regions of the country, has a lower life expectancy that either you or me. However, that is going to change within the next several decades. The longevity pill is finally coming.
In the next several decades, or certainly within the life span of most of us, humans are going to add more years to our average life span than we’ve been able to add in all the millennia of evolution. With this news, some people are going to react with the joy of a longer life. Other people may react with fear and panic. Will I have enough money to support my spouse and myself? Can the world absorb all of these people living longer? For now, let’s push those questions to the side.
Let me explain the basics. There is a new drug, rapamycin, which has worked wonders for the longevity of mice. Mice typically live 2.5 years. But with this drug, some mice are living 4+ years. More importantly, at the age of 4 years, these mice do not look that old. They look much like their younger counterparts with a lean body, full black hair, and a high level of energy and activity. By looking at them, you would never guess their advanced age.
Rapamycin appears to slow down the cellular process of aging. Specifically, it appears to provide some form of protection to the heart and liver, two organs that are crucial for maintaining good health. It also appears to reduce the frequency of tumors, reducing the chances of cancer. So, the mice do not just live longer; they remain in improved health for much of their life span.
At this point, you are probably asking: Rapamycin, where did it come from? How was it discovered? Initially, it was used in transplant patients to help prevent organ rejection. However, researchers noticed something unexpected in the humans who were receiving this drug. They were doing far better, and living longer, that the other patients. With this discovery, there was hope for tackling longevity as a disease. Maybe, just maybe, aging could be treated, even reversed.
In the future there may be other, better drugs. Researchers are exploring gene therapy, not just drugs. But for right now, the studies on rapamycin are very positive. It does not just work on mice; it has been shown to offer benefits for a wide variety of species from flies to mice. That is a good sign of some universal effect. There’s something else unusual. It can work in older mice, so it is a treatment that does not have to be started when you are young.
There’s another key factor. Rapamycin has been shown to impact a specific gene that is found in both mice and humans. Better yet, it seems to be a gene that helps to control a number of basic functions, allowing cells to absorb more healthy nutrients while producing fewer free radicals (damaging particles). It also seems to be one of those key genes that turn on and off, as needed by the cell. You might view it as a type of thermostat, keeping the cell at the temperature that is best for health and longevity. Now, that is a scientific breakthrough.
So, here is the current predicament. Rapamycin has already been approved for use in humans, as it was deemed acceptable for transplant patients. However, there have been some side effects. Some patients, even when responding positively to the rapamycin, have a higher risk of diabetes and a higher risk of cataracts. More studies on those side effects are currently underway, but it is still the most promising drug for anti-aging.
When might it be available to the public? That depends on the outcome of current studies. Here is the bottom line. If the drug company can refine rapamycin to the point where is extends life but does not increase any major side effects, then it could be ready for the marketplace within the next decade, perhaps within the next two decades. It, or a similar life-extending drug or perhaps gene therapy, is coming. You just need to stay alive, and remain in sufficiently good health, to give yourself a chance.
Let me offer one other point to consider. If rapamycin works as well in humans as it has already been shown to work in mice, our human life expectancy could stretch to 140 years. But there is an additional hope. With the drugs effectiveness to date, it has underscored a fundamental truth: the process of aging seems controlled by our genes and specifically by the tale ends of our genes, called telomeres.
For the first time in history, we have found our “timekeepers.” Now, we just have to refine a drug, or some approach like gene therapy, that allows us to treat the genetic “timekeepers”, helping them stay active and helping us remain young, robust, and healthy. The pharmaceutical companies are working hard to refine this type of treatment. You can imagine the potential level of profit.
Here is the closing message: the longevity drug, or some new type of gene therapy, is coming in our life span, so there is an additional urgency to protecting yourself from the ravages of older age. You also need to prepare for a sudden, unexpected chance to live much longer. That point was the topic of my book, The Boomer Survivor Kit. Even if you never read the book, you need to start thinking about those extra 20-30 years. How might you redesign yourself, your relationships, and your life?
It is never too early, or too late, to start making those changes.