A common cancer drug may be able to reverse-age women’s ovaries, potentially extending their childbearing years and delaying menopause.
Rapamycin, also known as sirolimus, is a once-weekly pill that suppresses the immune system and is used to treat cancer and prevent organ rejection after transplants or heart stent surgery. It has been recognized as a geroprotector, or a drug that can delay or reverse aging.
It has been earmarked as a potential longevity drug in recent years after promising studies in mice showed it could increase overall lifespan.
A 2021 review in the journal GeroScience, for example, examined the effects of rapamycin on mice. Researchers found that rapamycin increased the lifespan of male and female mice over 90 percent of the time.
Rapamycin is a once weekly pill with linked to increased longevity. Columbia University researchers are working to see if it could reverse ovarian aging
‘This drug targets the fundamental biology of aging…thereby extending health and lifespan in animal models,’ Dr Yousin Suh, genetics professor at Columbia University, told DailyMail.com. ‘In the long term, it may help women live healthier and longer.’
Dr Suh and Columbia University researcher Dr Zev Williams are spearheading the study, called Validating Benefits of Rapamycin for Reproductive Aging Treatment (VIBRANT), to trial whether or not rapamycin can have the same longevity properties on a woman’s ovaries.
Study participants are women who have tried and failed to get pregnant, either naturally or through fertility procedures such as IVF.
‘We are interested in reproductive aging in women, namely ovarian aging, because the ovary is the very first organ to age in the human body,’ Dr Suh said.
That aging process is abrupt, Dr Suh said. By the time a woman is in her thirties, her ovaries are already rapidly declining. That aging finally cumulates with menopause, which on average starts at age 51 in the US.
‘We have very little insight as to why the ovaries age so fast compared to other organs,’ Dr Suh said.
The goal of the VIBRANT study is to slow that process.
‘Rapamycin is one of the gold standards of geroprotectors, so it was crystal clear to us that the ovary can be targeted by rapamycin and thereby delay aging in the ovary, including menopause and age-related fertility decline,’ Dr Suh said.
Data measured until 2012 shows that the age during which women have their first child is steadily rising
According to the CDC, more and more women are starting to have their first child over the age of 30. The majority of these women have at east a bachelor’s degree
The National Center for Health Statistics has noted a steady increase in women being more likely to conceive in their thirties and forties.
Though research is still early, if successful, this could be a gamechanger for women in the US who are having kids later to prioritize their careers.
The National Center for Health Statistics shows most women are having an average of 1.3 babies.
From 2015-2019, only 56.7 percent of women had had a baby before the age of 49.
More women have also frozen their eggs since the Covid-19 pandemic. A 2021 study found a 44-percent increase in patients pursing egg freezing within 90 days of initial consultation.
Rapamycin could also delay menopause. Though most women hit menopause in their fifties, one in 20 women reach that point by age 45.
The process is preceded by several years of perimenopause, which lasts an average of two to eight years and followed by up to 14 years of postmenopause.
Menopause comes with a host of uncomfortable symptoms, ranging from uncomfortable to debilitating.
These include changes in menstrual cycle, hot flashes, night sweats, weight gain, decreased sex drive, depression, heart attack, and stroke.
Women who go through menopause at an earlier age are also subject to a greater risk of health issues such as heart disease, osteoporosis, and even dementia.
One study, for example, found that women with menopause-related hot flashes and depressive episodes were more likely to exhibit cognitive weaknesses associated with dementia.
Research suggests menopause accelerates aging, and the earlier a woman starts going through it, the faster she ages.
Rapamycin’s goal is to preserve as many healthy eggs as possible.
Unlike egg freezing, which involves overproducing eggs to store them outside the body for a later time, the drug works to keep those eggs inside the body.
This would allow the ovaries to function more like younger, healthier ones. The healthy ovaries control the release of eggs with an enzyme called mTOR, or the rapamycin’s target in mammals.
Regulating the release of eggs could safely slow reproductive aging, lengthening the amount of time a woman is fertile. This means she could have children at a later age and delay the onset of menopause.
However, too much mTOR could halt ovulation completely.
At the beginning and end of the project’s three-month period, researchers will measure the level of anti-Mullerian hormone each woman has. This is a key indicator of reproductive health. It corresponds to the amount of eggs each woman has in reserve, which is a marker of fertility.
Dr Suh said that it is still too early to tell if this could be the key to slowing ovarian aging. Still, she is excited to find out the answer.
‘When I leave the Earth, if I could help people, especially women, I would be very, very happy. That would be worth living for,’ she said.