Anti-aging drugs may offer new treatment for COVID-19

Mannik is studying the effects of rapamycin-like drugs on COVID-19. Her trial took place in nursing homes, where outbreaks of the disease broke out. For four weeks, half of the participants were given the drug and the other half were given a placebo. Among those who received a placebo, “25% developed severe covid and half of them died,” says Mannik, who has yet to publish his work. None of those who took the drug had any symptoms of Covid-19.

“There are several strategies to help the aging immune system fight the coronavirus better,” she says. “Aging is the biggest risk factor for severe covid and it’s a modifiable risk factor.”

She hopes to expand the use of her drug after covid-19; a rejuvenated immune system could theoretically resist many other viral and bacterial infections. Her colleague Stanley Perlman, a coronavirus scientist at the University of Iowa who co-authored a study on the antiviral drug BioAge in mice, is referring to future pandemics. “The next time another coronavirus appears in 2030, maybe all this information will then be very useful,” he says.

Get out with the old

The immune system is not the only target of anti-aging drugs. Others seek to cleanse aged cells. Most of the cells in our body divide up to a certain point. Once they reach this limit, they must die and be destroyed by the immune system. But this is not always the case – some cells remain. These cells no longer divide, but instead, some of them produce a poisonous mixture of chemicals that cause devastating inflammation in the surrounding area and beyond.

The cells that do this are called “senescent” cells, and they build up in our organs as we age. They have been linked to an ever-increasing number of age-related diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, cataracts, Alzheimer’s, and the list goes on. They also appear to play an important role in coronavirus infections.

In a yet-to-be-published study, James Kirkland, who studies cell aging and senescence at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, says he has evidence that the coronavirus infects senescent cells faster than nonsenescent cells. His research also suggests that senescent cells release chemicals that cause nearby non-senescent cells to also engulf the virus, he says.

Not only do these cells take in more coronavirus, but they also seem to provide a breeding ground for new variants of the virus.. “Evidence is emerging that senescent cells infected with coronavirus can mutate this virus,” says Kirkland. “Thus, they may even be the cause of viral mutations.”

An additional cause for concern is that the coronavirus can cause healthy cells to age. With all of this in mind, aging has become an obvious target for both anti-aging and COVID-19 therapies. Studies in mice and hamsters show that aging cell-killing compounds may ease symptoms of COVID-19 and increase the chances of survival.

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