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Rapamycin from Bacteria for Anti-Aging in Dogs and Humans

Updated on January 13, 2016
AliciaC profile image

Linda Crampton is a biology teacher, writer, and long-time pet owner. She currently has dogs, cats, and birds in her family.

Sam is tired after a day of hiking and swimming on our camping trip.
Sam is tired after a day of hiking and swimming on our camping trip. | Source

The Goal of Anti-Aging Strategies

Rapamycin is a chemical produced by soil bacteria. In lab experiments, the chemical has significantly lengthened the lifespan of yeasts, worms, fruit flies and mice. It's currently being tested in pet dogs. If this trial is successful, rapamycin may then be tested in humans. Rapamycin seems to work by inhibiting a protein known as mTOR.

The goal of anti-aging techniques varies. For some researchers, the main objective is to prolong life. For others, the aim is not so much to extend life but instead to ward off those diseases that are more common in old age. If these diseases are avoided or delayed, we should be able to remain healthy and active for a longer portion of our lives. An added benefit is that avoiding some of the diseases may increase our lifespan. Rapamycin helps some health problems, but it also appears to counteract some of the processes involved in aging.

A species of Streptomyces with branching filaments and chains of spores
A species of Streptomyces with branching filaments and chains of spores | Source

Streptomyces - The Source of Rapamycin

Rapamycin is produced by a soil bacterium named Streptomyces hygroscopicus. The "Rapa" part of the drug's name comes from Rapa Nui, the original name for Easter Island. The chemical was discovered in soil from the island in the 1970s. The suffix "mycin" is often used to name medicines made by species of Streptomyces. There have been many of these medicines, including antibiotics as well as immunosuppressive drugs. The genus Streptomyces is very useful for humans.

Not all antibiotics made by Streptomyces have "mycin" in their name. Chloramphenicol was found in Streptomyces venezuelae. It's an important antibiotic that is used to treat some serious diseases.

Antibiotic Production by Streptomyces

Rapamycin, mTOR Inhibition and Immune System Suppression

Rapamycin is already used as an FDA-approved drug in humans. (The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, is a federal agency that approves medicinal drug use in the United States.) The medicine is sometimes known as sirolimus. At high doses, it suppresses the activity of the immune system. This ability is very useful in preventing the body's rejection of tissue and organs transplanted from other people's bodies. The drug is frequently given to people who have undergone a kidney transplant.

Rapamycin is believed to inhibit the immune system by interfering with the action of T cells. T cells are a vital component of our immune system. The immune system protects us from invaders such as bacteria and viruses. Unfortunately, the body considers medically transplanted tissue from another person to be an invader, too, and attempts to destroy the tissue.

Once inside the body, rapamycin inhibits a protein called mTOR. The abbreviation "mTOR" stands for "Mechanistic Target of Rapomycin". The protein plays an important role in T cell activation and reproduction. When mTOR is prevented from doing its job, T cells are hindered and transplanted organs are safer.

mTOR was first described in 1991. At that time, it was of interest mainly because it was affected by rapamycin. Scientists have since discovered that it's a very important signaling molecule in cells and is involved in many processes, including (apparently) aging.

This is a T cell, or T lymphocyte, obtained from a healthy person. The photo has been colourized.
This is a T cell, or T lymphocyte, obtained from a healthy person. The photo has been colourized. | Source

Rapamycin as a Cancer Treatment

Rapamycin can fight at least some types of cancer via its action on mTOR. The mTOR protein stimulates the growth and reproduction of other cells besides T cells. It's often mutated (changed) in cancer cells. This mutation leads to increased reproduction of the cells. Since rapamycin inhibits mTOR, it can be helpful in stopping cancer cell reproduction and in treating the disease. The "hyperactive" mTOR in some types of cancer seems to be especially sensitive to the presence of rapamycin.

There are two versions of mTOR - mTORC1 and mTORC2. mTORC1 is the version involved in most research and is the type that seems to be most closely related to cancer development.

Enzymes are a type of protein. mTOR acts as a kinase. Kinases are enzymes that transfer phosphate groups from high-energy molecules to other substances. The process in which mTOR affects cells is complex and beyond the scope of this article. The video below provides more details for people who would like to explore them.

mTORC1, mTORC2 and Cancer

Rapamycin is a bioactive chemical. A bioactive substance is a non-nutrient chemical that produces an effect (or effects) inside the human body.

Rapamycin and Life Extension in Mice

Multiple experiments have shown that rapamycin increases the lifespan of mice. The life of female mice is extended by around 15% and the life of male mice by about 10%, depending on the conditions of the experiment. The chemical is exciting because its anti-aging benefit has been shown in different studies performed by different people. This indicates that the claim that it lengthens the life of mice is very likely true.

At the moment, it's unknown how rapamycin increases the lifespan of yeasts and lab animals. There are several theories, but they haven't been proven. It's thought that the inhibition of mTOR is somehow involved in the process.

Rapamycin extends the life of lab mice.
Rapamycin extends the life of lab mice. | Source

How Does Rapamycin Fight Aging?

There are two leading theories for rapamycin's method of action, as described below. The chemical may extend life in more than one way.

Reducing the Amount of Protein Synthesis

One way in which mTOR triggers activity and growth in cells is by stimulating the process of protein synthesis. It's suspected that the buildup of misfolded proteins in our body is one cause of aging. It's been suggested that by reducing the number of proteins that are made, rapamycin also reduces the number of misfolded proteins produced as well as the resources needed in the attempt to repair them. This may be part of the answer to the anti-aging puzzle, but the evidence doesn't support it in all cases.

Promoting Autophagy

mTOR is involved in a chain of chemical reactions that inhibits autophagy. Autophagy is the breakdown of organelles and proteins in cells. Inhibiting this process is useful under normal circumstances, but autophagy has some benefits. The breakdown of damaged structures and the recycling of their components for new construction can be helpful for a cell. Autophagy is also helpful when a cell isn't receiving enough nutrients.

Rapamycin promotes autophagy by inhibiting mTOR. Various researchers have observed that promoting autophagy can have rejuvenating and life extension benefits for yeasts, worms, flies and mice, so this may be one way in which rapamycin reduces aging. The worm used in life extension research is usually Caenorhabditis elegans, often known as C. elegans. The fly is frequently Drosophila melanogaster, or the fruit fly.

Rapamycin may also extend life by inhibiting cancer and reducing inflammation. The immune system launches an inflammatory response to attack invaders. This inflammation is normally temporary. Increased and chronic inflammation is believed to be a contributor to aging.

Misha is seven, which puts him in the right age range for the Dog Aging Project. Like Sam in the first photo, he's just been swimming.
Misha is seven, which puts him in the right age range for the Dog Aging Project. Like Sam in the first photo, he's just been swimming. | Source

Rapamycin and Aging in Dogs

The research into the effects of rapamycin on dog aging is being performed by scientists at the University of Washington. They call their research the Dog Aging Project. The researchers suspect that the drug may increase the lifespan of dogs by two to five years.

I wouldn't allow my dog to be treated with rapamycin at the moment due to the uncertainty about its effects. I certainly understand the attraction of the drug for dog owners, though. Dogs have such short lives compared to ours. They are intelligent animals that make wonderful companions and often become much loved members of the family. Sadly, their lifespan is only around twelve to fifteen years, although some dogs die at a younger or older age. It's heartbreaking for a dog lover to say goodbye to multiple dogs as the person goes through life.

A small number of interventions have been shown to reproducibly and robustly extend lifespan in mice. Among these, the best candidate for working similarly in dogs and people is a drug called rapamycin.

— The Dog Aging Project at the University of Washington
This is Dylan as a puppy. I hope he has a long and healthy life.
This is Dylan as a puppy. I hope he has a long and healthy life. | Source

The Dog Aging Project at the University of Washington

Researchers at the University of Washington are carrying out two studies in their Dog Aging Project. One is called the "Longitudinal Study of Aging in Pet Dogs". This is a nationwide study of dogs throughout their life. The goal is to discover why some dogs succumb to diseases such as cancer, dementia and kidney failure in old age while others don't.

The second study is called the "Rapamycin Intervention Trial in Pet Dogs". There are two phases in this study. The first involves about thirty-two pet dogs living in Seattle. All are older than six and are middle-aged. They will be given a low dose of rapamycin for ten weeks. During this time, their blood chemistry, heart function and microbiome will be monitored by veterinarians. This phase of the trial is already in progress.

The second phase in the rapamycin intervention trial will involve dogs from all over the United States and perhaps from other countries as well. It will be a long term project designed to discover the effect of rapamycin on lifespan and health. The dogs will be monitored closely and frequent tests done to assess aspects of their health.

The microbiome is the community of bacteria and other microscopic organisms that lives in the gut of dogs and humans. Research is showing that our microbiome can have a profound effect on our health. Most microbes in the gut appear to be helpful.

This is Misha as a young dog. I would love to extend his lifespan as long as I was confident about his safety.
This is Misha as a young dog. I would love to extend his lifespan as long as I was confident about his safety. | Source

Dog Safety and Side Effects of Rapamycin Treatment

At the high doses used to treat kidney transplants and cancer, there may be major side effects of rapamycin treatment in humans. These include increasing the risk of diabetes, hindering wound healing and suppressing the immune system in cases where this isn't desirable. Only a low dose of the drug is needed to extend the lifespan of mice, however.

The risk of side effects from rapamycin treatment is probably acceptable for someone with a life threatening disorder. It may not be acceptable for relatively healthy people. The University of Washington researchers say that the anti-aging doses of rapamycin used in mouse experiments have caused few to no side effects in the mice, however. They suspect that the low doses of the drug used in their dog aging project will cause no significant problems, either.

A senior beagle
A senior beagle | Source

Benefits of Anti-Aging Research in Pet Dogs

The Dog Aging Project may have important benefits for both dogs and humans. It would be wonderful if our pets had an increased lifespan while remaining healthy. Using dogs in the research instead of mice and simpler animals could be beneficial for humans beyond giving us a longer time with our pets, however.

Confirmation of rapamycin's effects in dogs is likely to take several years. Although dogs live for a short time compared to humans, they live much longer than the mice and other animals tested in lab experiments. The wait for the research results may be very worthwhile, though. Dogs are more similar to humans with respect to physiology and behaviour. Discoveries in dogs may therefore be more applicable to humans than those already made in lab animals. Another advantage of dog research is that results will be obtained more quickly than the equivalent research in humans due to the shorter lifespan of dogs.

Most people would probably consider living for longer a great idea, as long as they stay healthy and reasonably happy. If life extension strategies become routine, however, we may have additional problems to consider. These problems may include overpopulation and the structure of society.

Potential Benefits of Understanding mTOR

Hopefully the anti-aging potential of rapamycin will be successful in both dogs and humans. If not, though, we should have at least learned more about mTOR. It's a fascinating chemical and its effects are far-reaching. It's definitely a substance that should be explored in detail.

We know more about mTORC1 than mTORC2 at the moment. Both seem to be very important. Our research and knowledge of mTOR could help us in many other ways besides extending our lifespan.

© 2015 Linda Crampton

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    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 15 months ago from south Florida

      Thanks for sharing this exciting, and possibly anti-aging, research with us, Alicia. Rapamycin might be the new 'Fountain of Youth.' You are in a class of your own, m'dear, when it comes to sharing medical research in a manner that folks can relate to.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much for such a kind comment, drbj. I appreciate it a great deal.

    • Buildreps profile image

      Buildreps 15 months ago from Europe

      As always very interesting and well researched, Alicia. I think it would be an ethical legitimate way to extend the lifetime of our four-legged friends. Like you state perfectly well, the life expectancies of humans and dogs are not very in sync, and is heartbreaking when they decease. Nice photo's of your dogs!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 15 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Hi AliciaC thank you for a very interesting hub. Dogs are amazing pets and your research taught me lots.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 15 months ago from Olympia, WA

      I don't know how you know all this stuff, but I appreciate the fact that you can share it with us in an understandable way.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Buildreps. Thank you for the comment. I would be so happy if dogs lived longer, as long as the life extension process was safe.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Devika. Thank you very much for the comment.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks, Bill. I think that biology is fascinating, so it's always fun for me to explore the topic.

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 15 months ago from the short journey

      Thanks for sharing what you've learned on rapamycin. This is an interesting read that shows some of the potential that might come from the research. We live in amazing times to be able to explore the intricacies of this world's grand design!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, RTalloni. Thanks for the visit and comment. We do live in amazing times!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 15 months ago from Oklahoma

      I don't know what to say except just fascinating!

      I often wonder when we crack the code on our bodies aging how we will deal with our brains going bad, or just running out of space.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      That's an excellent point, Larry. Life extension for humans sounds very attractive, but I think it could definitely cause some problems. Thanks for the visit.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 15 months ago from South Africa

      Very interesting! Rapamycin could be the discovery of the century. I hope it will not cause problems in humans.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Martie. Yes, rapamycin could be very important in our future. I hope it doesn't cause any problems, too.

    • bdegiulio profile image

      Bill De Giulio 15 months ago from Massachusetts

      Absolutely fascinating. Thank you for sharing this with us Linda. These are exciting times that we live in. Hopefully rapamycin proves to be as promising as it sounds.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Bill. Thanks for the visit. Rapamycin is certainly an exciting chemical. The future should be interesting!

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Isaac Weithers 15 months ago from The Caribbean

      Rapamycin sounds like a miracle product. I'm all for it fighting aging diseases; perhaps it can maintain the life it extends. Thanks for this information.

    • Genna East profile image

      Genna East 15 months ago from Massachusetts, USA

      Linda, your articles are so well researched and presented; I always look forward to reading them, learning something new with each and every read. Rapamycin presents us with a Catch 22: It is hopeful for our canine friends that we dearly love, but with for humans, as you have pointed out, a prolonged lifespan comes with a new set of challenges.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, MsDora. Yes, rapamycin does sound promising. I'm a bit cautious because sometimes a substance is shown to be effective in lab experiments but not in humans. There's a lot of scientific interest in rapamycin, though. It could become a very important substance.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you so much for the comment, Genna. I appreciate your kindness. Yes, I think that widespread extension of the human lifespan could definitely create some problems!

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 15 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      There's a lot more in dirt that meets the eye. I grew up in dirt. I was there day and night, night and day, and am one of the healthiest specimens that you'll ever hope to meet. I also look about twenty years younger than most people that revolve around my age. I attribute this to growing up on organic food and being out in the open spaces exploring. That's why it has been said for years that kids that grow up in the country are much healthier than those in the city. Not only that, we know the source of french fries...

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing the interesting information, Deb. You've raised some good points!

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 15 months ago from USA

      Beautiful dogs, Linda. Oh, to turn back the clock for ourselves and our pets! And hopefully the mind stays sharp as well!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Flourish. I agree with your desire so much. I would love my dogs, cats and birds to live for longer. Life extension for humans would be wonderful, too, as long as both our body and our mind stayed in good condition.

    • Mel Carriere profile image

      Mel Carriere 15 months ago from San Diego California

      It seems like there are some very worthwhile uses for this drug, but I agree we have to be cautious, and not open Pandora's Box before we really know what is in there. You have some lovely dogs, by the way. Great hub!

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, Mel. Yes, I think we do have to be careful. The possibilities are intriguing, though!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 15 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      A Happy New Year to you!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Devika. Happy New Year to you, too!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 15 months ago

      I am always amazed at the amount of research out there that could possibly change lives. Thanks for bringing this information to us in basic knowledge format.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 15 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you for the comment, Dianna. I hope you have a very happy new year.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 14 months ago from Dubai

      Rapamycin seems to have a lot of potential, this I know now after reading your hub. Another interesting and informative article voted up.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 14 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you, Vellur. Yes, rapamycin does seem to have a lot of potential. It's a very interesting substance!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 14 months ago from The Beautiful South

      This is something great to know and very hopeful!

      My last cat lived to be almost 20 and was an outdoor/ indoor one. I think it is great your dogs get to be outdoors; I think that will always be best for their health than ones who only go for an occasional walk.

    • AliciaC profile image
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      Linda Crampton 14 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Jackie. I hope my cats live as long as yours! They are indoor cats, although they do get taken out at times in a cat stroller. Thanks for the visit.

    • CarolynEmerick profile image

      Carolyn Emerick 14 months ago

      thank you for sharing this! I had never heard of this research! Very interesting and hopeful.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 14 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Carolyn. It is hopeful research. I hope it leads to good things!

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 12 months ago from California

      This touched me! I have an older dog and I don't know how I will say goodbye--lately it is through poetry that I can start to write my way through

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 12 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I can imagine how you feel, Audrey. Seeing signs of aging in a pet is sad. I also know what you mean about writing poetry in an effort to deal with a difficult situation. I hope you have the companionship of your dog for as long as possible. Best wishes to you.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 12 months ago from Houston, Texas

      Our Skippy is around 15 and definitely showing his age. It would be wonderful to be able to prolong the lives of our beloved pets if there are no serious side effects. As to prolonging human life...the sociological impact of overpopulation would surely need to be considered. Very interesting article Alicia. You never cease to amaze me with what you write!

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 12 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thank you very much, Peggy! I hope Skippy stays as healthy as possible and lives for a long time.

    • Easy Exercise profile image

      Kelly A Burnett 11 months ago from United States

      AliciaC

      You hit it out of the park on this hub - the very core of me loves animals and you had many of favorites in your photos. The idea of extending a dog's life is amazing - simply amazing. But then the other ramifications are also of high interest which perhaps our children will have a chance to debate? Any crystal ball predictions of a time line?

      Once long ago I decided I wanted a flat coated retriever. I did all the research, saved the funds, called the breeder and when I learned they had a short life span I ran as fast I could. Loosing an animal is heart breaking.

    • AliciaC profile image
      Author

      Linda Crampton 11 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Hi, Easy Exercise. I love animals, too. I wish I could predict how long it will take to prove that rapamycin is both effective and safe. Losing a pet is certainly heart breaking. I can understand why you want to avoid getting a dog with a short lifespan. Thanks for the visit.

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