- In 2009 scientists discovered that a drug called rapamycin could significantly extend life span in mice, doing so by interfering with the activity of a protein called mammalian TOR, or mTOR.
- The finding is the most compelling evidence to date that mammalian aging can be slowed pharmaceutically, and it galvanized interest in mTOR’s role in the aging process.
- The result also highlighted a mystery: Why would suppressing cellular growth and replication—oneeffect of interfering with mTOR—extend life span?
- Research into that question could lead to medicines that postpone or mitigate aging-related disorders—from Alzheimer’s disease to cancer to heart failure—and perhaps even extend how long humans can live.
On a clear November morning in 1964 the Royal Canadian Navy’s Cape Scott embarked from Halifax, Nova Scotia, on a four-month expedition. Led by the late Stanley Skoryna, an enterprising McGill University professor, a team of 38 scientists onboard headed for Easter Island, a volcanic speck that juts out from the Pacific 2,200 miles west of Chile. Plans were afoot to build an airport on the remote island, famous for its mysterious sculptures of enormous heads, and the group wanted to study the people, flora and fauna while they remained largely untouched by modernity.
The islanders warmly welcomed Skoryna’s team, which brought back hundreds of specimens of plants and animals, as well as blood and saliva from all 949 of the residents. But a test tube of dirt turned out to be the biggest prize: it contained a bacterium that made a defensive chemical with an amazing property—the ability to prolong life in diverse species.
This article was originally published with the title A New Path to Longevity.