The Streptomyces hygroscopicus bacteria from Chile’s island paradise have been used to make a drug called Rapamycin, which has proved extremely effective in treating Hutchinson-Gilford progeria syndrome (HPGS), a rare genetic condition that produces rapid and premature aging in children. The serious medical condition produces a sudden onset of the aging process at an early age, causing alterations to the skin and internal organs.
The Harvard researchers came across Rapamycin’s powerful anti-aging properties by accident while they were developing a process to reduce organ rejection in transplant patients, according to an article in the multi-disciplinary medical journal Science Translational Medicine.
As well as combating the aggressive symptoms of HPGS, the team of U.S.-based scientists believes the Easter Island compound could also be used to produce an “elixir of youth,” capable of mitigating, and perhaps even overturning, the symptoms of aging.
While investigating the effects of Rapamycin on the epithelial cells of children suffering from HPGS, study author Francis S. Collins found that the organ transplant drug helps to suppress the damaged proteins that lead to aging, while undoing their harmful effects. As an added bonus, all the cells treated with Rapamycin had an increased lifespan.
The team of researchers also uncovered evidence that suggests the drug could overturn another fundamental factor that leads to aging. Study co-author Dimitri Krainic told ABC that as the body ages, the cells lose their ability to dispose of waste, but Rapamycin seems to strengthen the cells, enabling them to continue performing this important function. The Harvard researchers believe this could prolong the life of the individual cells as well as the organs to which they belong.