A recent study from Drexel University found that an FDA-approved drug, rapamycin, normally used to prevent organ rejection after transplant surgery, may also slow aging in human skin.
It showed that changes include decreases in wrinkles, reduced sagging and more even skin tone.
This finding is the first to show the drug has an effect on aging in human tissue, specifically skin.
The study is published in Geroscience. One author is Christian Sell, Ph.D., an associate professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the College of Medicine.
Rapamycin—first discovered in the 1970s in bacteria found in the soil of Easter Island—also reduces stress in the cell by attacking cancer-causing free radicals in the mitochondria.
Previous studies have used the drug to slow aging in mice, flies, and worms.
As researchers continue to seek out the elusive ‘fountain of youth’ and ways to live longer, they’re seeing the growing potential for use of this drug.
In the study, the team focused on skin, a complex organism with immune, nerve cells, stem cells.
They tested 13 participants over age 40, who applied rapamycin cream every 1-2 days to one hand and a control cream on the other hand for eight months.
They checked on the people after two, four, six and eight months, including conducting a blood test and a biopsy.
The researchers found after eight months, the majority of the rapamycin hands showed increases in collagen protein, and much lower levels of p16 protein, a key marker of skin cell aging.
Skin that has lower levels of p16 has fewer senescent cells, which are linked to skin wrinkles.
Beyond cosmetic effects, higher levels of p16 can lead to dermal atrophy, a common condition in seniors, which is linked to fragile skin that tears easily, slow healing after cuts and increased risk of infection or complications after an injury.
The team says rapamycin blocks the appropriately named “target of rapamycin” (TOR), a protein that acts as a mediator in metabolism, growth, and aging of human cells.
The capability for rapamycin to improve human health beyond outward appearance is further illuminated when looking deeper at p16 protein, which is a stress response that human cells undergo when damaged, but is also a way of preventing cancer.
When cells have a mutation that would have otherwise created a tumor, this response helps prevent the tumor by slowing the cell cycle process. Instead of creating a tumor, it contributes to the aging process.
In addition to its current use to prevent organ rejection, rapamycin is currently prescribed (in higher doses than used in the current study) for the rare lung disease lymphangioleiomyomatosis, and as an anti-cancer drug.
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