Living Longer

Researchers have uncovered an ancient mechanism that retards aging. Drugs that tweaked it could well postpone cancer, diabetes and other diseases of old age.

By David Stipp, Scientific American

        Image: Photographs by Evan Kafka

In Brief

  • 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 human