Mannik is studying the effect of rapamycin-like drugs on COVID-19. Her trials took place in nursing homes that were experiencing outbreaks of the disease. For four weeks, half of the participants received the drug and the other half – a placebo. Among those who received a placebo, “25% of them developed severe covid, and half of them died,” said Manik, who has not yet published his work. None of those taking the drug had symptoms of Covid-19.
“There are many strategies that help the aging immune system better fight COVID,” she says. “Aging is the biggest risk factor for severe COVID, and it’s a risk factor that can be changed.”
She hopes to expand the use of her drug beyond COVID-19; a rejuvenated immune system could theoretically fight off many other viral and bacterial infections. Her colleague Stanley Perlman, a coronavirologist at the University of Iowa who co-authored a study of Covid BioAge on mice, is referring to future pandemics. “The next time there is another coronavirus in 2030, maybe then all this information will be very useful,” he says.
Out with the old man
The immune system is not the only target of anti-aging drugs. Others seek to clean up old cells. Most cells in our body divide until a certain point. Once they reach this limit, they must die and be cleared by the immune system. But this is not always the case – some cells are delayed. These cells no longer divide, and some instead produce a toxic infusion of chemicals that cause damaging inflammation in and around the area.
The cells that do this are called “aging” and they accumulate in our organs as we age. They are associated with a growing number of age-related diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, cataracts, Alzheimer’s disease – the list goes on. They also seem to play an important role in coronavirus infection.
In a study not yet published, James Kirkland, who studies cell aging and aging at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, says he has evidence that coronavirus infects aging cells rather than aging cells. His research also suggests that aging cells secrete chemicals that cause neighboring ageless cells to also absorb the virus, he says.
These cells not only accept more coronavirus, but they also seem to provide a breeding ground for new variants of the virus. “There is evidence that aging cells infected with the coronavirus can mutate the virus,” says Kirkland. “So they can even cause viral mutations.”
In addition, coronavirus can make healthy cells age. Given all this, aging has become an obvious goal of both anti-aging and Covid-19 treatments. Studies in mice and hamsters show that compounds that kill aging cells can improve Covid-19 symptoms and increase your chances of survival.