The cure for cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, diabetes, and strokes have remained elusive, but researchers at the University of Washington are running a study that might find the cure for getting older.
The onset of many diseases go hand and hand with old age. If a drug could slow the aging process, these diseases might also be hamstringed. Researchers and federally funded labs have been studying rapamycin, which is made by soil bacterium and has been proven to extended life spans of insects and yeast by 25 percent. It has also been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for organ transplant patients and some cancer patients, the New York Times reports. Novartis, a pharmaceutical company, found that rapamycin can help strengthen the immune systems of older patients.
Matt Kaeberlein, a biology of aging researcher at the University of Washington and colleague Daniel Promislow tell the Times that their trials with rapamycin and old dogs has had promising early results.
Kaeberlein first studied the effects of rapamycin in mice and found that the mice that were administered the drug lived about 25 percent longer than the control group. He also found that mice have been slower to develop cancer and Alzheimer's and had stronger and longer-lasting hearts.
There were some side effects in mice, including mouth sores, cataracts, and non-functioning testicles in males, Kaeberlein says. But the pilot study on dogs revealed no serious side effects.
Dr. Kaeberlein says if aging can be slowed, life threatening diseases could be slowed or stopped. But the entire medical research establishment is based entirely on finding cures for individual and specific diseases, which has made it hard for Kaeberlein's study and other studies to secure proper funding, he tells the Times.
"Many of us in the biology of aging field feel like it is underfunded relative to the potential impact on human health this could have," Kaeberlein tells the Times, explaining he helped fund the study with money the college gave him.
The National Institute on Aging directed a third of its budget last year exclusively to research on Alzheimer's disease. The National Institutes of Health only gives a "tiny fraction" of its $30 billion annual budget to the Division of Aging Biology, the Times reports.
So, in a move that any media company can relate to in 2016, Dr. Kaeberlein decided to move from testing on mice to testing on dogs in the hopes of getting more people to pay attention. (Cats would also be a legitimate attention-getting strategy.)
Silicon Valley has been trying to stop aging for a few years. Google's California Life Company (Calico) was launched in 2013 to hack aging and Unity, a startup, hopes to develop drugs that can extend life by purging cells.
But the study to extend life is also controversial. A Princeton molecular biologist named Coleen Murphy received hate mail for her study of extending reproductive age in women, the Times reports. On Reddit, Bill Gates referred to efforts trying to extend life as the wealthy elite being "egocentric."
Still, Dr. Kaeberlein hopes to find more funding for a second study on a larger group of dogs.
"If you do the extrapolation for people, we're probably talking a couple of decades, with the expectation that those years are going to be spent in relatively good health," Dr. Kaeberlein tells the Times.