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Rapamycin: The Solution to Skin Aging?
Maintaining youthful appearance is a desire of many people. This craving makes them to load up on a wide variety of topical beauty products plus supplements. New research suggests that the drug rapamycin is another thing that such persons may possibly get help from at some point.
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There has been talk of an elusive “Fountain of Youth” for centuries. People have been on a relentless search for that magical solution to hold off aging, perhaps, especially skin aging. Some products or compounds have come on the scene over the years, claiming to be that fountain of youth, but ended up failing to meet expectations of many users.
Now researchers have found that rapamycin may be another option for those looking to delay appearance of skin aging signs.
The new research, carried out by scientists at Drexel University College of Medicine, is the first to demonstrate anti-aging effects of the drug in human tissue. Rapamycin use led to reductions of wrinkles and skin sagging, while also improving skin tone of subjects.
The study was published in the journal Geroscience.
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Rapamycin and the aging process
Scientists made the discovery of rapamycin in the 1970s. They found it in the soil of Easter Island – specifically in bacteria present in it.
A popular use of this compound, also known as sirolimus, is the coating of coronary stents. It is often used to guard against organ rejection follow a transplant procedure.
In addition, higher doses of rapamycin are now prescribed for lymphangioleiomyomatosis, a rare disorder of the lungs. Doctors also prescribe it for cancer in some cases.
Rapamycin works by blocking a protein that mediates growth, metabolism, and aging processes in human cells. This protein is referred to as target of rapamycin (TOR).
The p16 protein provides further explanation of how the drug influences disorders, such as cancer, and aging. This protein is a stress response to damage to humans cells. It slows cell division and helps to suppress the growth of tumor.
While helping to keep human cells from becoming cancerous, the p16 protein plays a part in aging, however.
“When cells age, they become detrimental and create inflammation. That’s part of aging,” said senior author Christian Sell, PhD. “These cells that have undergone stress are now pumping out inflammatory markers.”
Controlling skin aging with rapamycin
The research team had observed in earlier cell culture studies that the drug enhanced cell function and slowed down aging.
Researchers found that rapamycin increased the lifespan of yeast cells in a 1996 Cell study, although the cells became smaller. The effects were observed after targeting TOR proteins in yeast with the drug.
In the new study, scientists decided to examine the effects of the compound in human tissue, specifically the skin.
“It’s a complex organism with immune, nerve cells, stem cells – you can learn a lot about the biology of a drug and aging process by looking at skin,” explained Sell, an associate professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the College of Medicine, Drexel University.
The investigation involved 13 participants who were older than 40 years. These people applied a cream containing the compound to one hand and a placebo to the second hand for a period of eight months.
At two-month intervals, the research team assessed the participants to see what changes, if any, were taking place. It also carried out blood tests and biopsy tests at six months and eight months.
Most of these subjects showed collagen boost in the hands treated with rapamycin cream after eight months.
Drop in p16 protein levels
The researchers also found that the amounts of p16 proteins in the treated hands were also significantly lower, statistically. Lower p16 is an indication of a slowdown of the aging process. Higher levels increase the rate of cell senescence, which has a link to the appearance of wrinkles on the skin.
Too much of the p16 protein can also result in dermal atrophy. This condition, common among elderly people, makes the skin fragile and could lead to easy tearing that takes longer time to heal. Risk of complications from injuries increases with dermal atrophy as well.
The drug was not absorbed in the bloodstream of any of the subjects, the researchers said.
This is early research on the anti-aging effects of rapamycin on the skin, however, according to Sell and his colleagues. They noted that there are many more things yet to know on how best to use the compound.