Longevity finding in mice named a top research breakthrough of 2009 by journal Science

SAN ANTONIO (Dec. 18, 2009) — Studies that showed rapamycin, an antibiotic used in transplant patients, extended the life span of aged mice at three separate U.S. centers are recognized in the Dec. 18 issue of Science as a runner-up for research breakthrough of the year.

The idea to test rapamycin on mouse longevity came from Dave Sharp, Ph.D., professor of molecular medicine at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. In October, Dr. Sharp accepted a prestigious Mprize Lifespan Achievement Award in New York City from the Methuselah Foundation in recognition of his pioneering effort to study the effect of rapamycin on aging in mice.

Rapamycin is the first pharmaceutical intervention to successfully extend life span of lab mice. Dr. Sharp proposed the rapamycin study to the National Institute on Aging Interventions Testing Program (ITP), which seeks compounds that might help people remain active and disease-free throughout their lives.

The three centers involved in the ITP are the UT Health Science Center’s Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and Jackson Laboratory in Bar Harbor, Maine.

In July, the three centers published their paper in Nature showing that rapamycin, which was first isolated from the soil of Easter Island in the South Pacific, extended life span of the mice at comparable rates independently at the three centers. The rapamycin was given to the mice at 600 days of age — equivalent to 60 years old in humans.

Randy Strong, Ph.D., of the Barshop Institute and the Health Science Center Department of Pharmacology, directs the San Antonio Interventions Testing Center and led the study at the Health Science Center site. A significant obstacle to implementing the rapamycin intervention in mice was that the drug is easily degraded in their food and was not suitable for chronic studies. He worked with Southwest Research Institute to devise a microencapsulated form of the compound that resists degradation in the mouse chow. This made it possible to carry out the study.

“Aging research has finally come of age,” said Arlan G. Richardson, Ph.D., director of the Barshop Institute. “Recognition as one of the top scientific discoveries in 2009 by Science magazine is a major honor for our institution, for Randy and Dave, and for the field of aging. To my knowledge, this is the first aging-related discovery to be recognized as one of the top scientific discoveries by the research community.”

Under the heading “Live Long and Prosper,” the Science breakthroughs report noted that “the result was a first in mammals — and especially encouraging because the animals were already past their prime.”

Easter Island is distinguished by mammoth, worn stone monoliths that have stood the test of time. Rapamycin’s name is derived from the island Polynesian name, Rapa Nui.

The discovery of a rare fossil, Ardipithecus ramidus, in Ethiopia was deemed the top breakthrough of 2009.

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $668 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $16.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $36 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 25,600 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and other health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, dentistry and many other fields. For more information, visit www.uthscsa.edu.

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