Easter Island has long stayed in the collective unconscious of civilization as one of the most mysterious locations on Earth. The mysterious statues, the Moa with their long staring eyes looking into the distance as if warding off invaders or beseeching distant travelers to come closer, are still the center of archaeological debate. And now it seems once again Easter Island is a center of wonder as scientists unearth a new compound that may cure one age related illness and could one day kill off the aging process altogether – from the island’s soil.
It might sound strange to look for the fountain of youth in the soil of one of the most mysterious islands in the world – or it might sound like precisely the sort of place eternal life may lie. As scientists dug up the soil they found it contained what would eventually become a drug known as Rapamycin. At first it was tested on cells from children who suffered from a disease commonly known as Progeria. Sufferers of this disease often age incredibly rapidly and in fact cannot keep their bodies from deteriorating as time goes on. Unfortunately, without a proper treatment they would undergo the aging process of decades within only a few years without any of the growth that normally comes with it. The end result was often heart breaking as cells caused a child to age before their parent’s eyes. But it appears scientists may have found an answer to this mysterious but tragic illness in the form of drugs made from the soil found on Easter Island.
And they’re beginning to explore the idea that there may actually be wider benefits that could affect entire populations. The cellular deterioration that comes along with cell division and growth has been linked to a select few proteins. These proteins are what cause the look of old age after the body has reached a certain stage of its life. But scientists curious about what happened when this protein was removed from the body during development found that they could extend the lifespans of mice by several factors – tempting some to suggest they could eliminate aging altogether.
And now they’re beginning to put the two together after looking into the properties of Rapamycin, its relationship to Progeria, and the aging process in general. If it works to keep sufferers of Progeria from aging, why couldn’t it work on those who were aging at a normal pace?
And so the sentiment that one day soon we may live in a world where age and death mean entirely different things than they do today comes through once again. Will scientists unlock the key to living forever? And if so, will we find that the thing making us age was something within our own bodies the whole time that we didn‘t necessarily need?