A transplant drug with anti-aging properties can regenerate bone and decrease gum inflammation, promising new treatments for common dental problems in aging patients, according to researchers at the University of Washington School of Dentistry.
Approved by the US Food and Drug Administration, rapamycin prevents organ transplant rejection and has slowed aging and increased lifespan in a variety of species, including worms, mice, and dogs, in preclinical studies.
But until now, nobody has ever explored the effect of rapamycin in the aging mouth, where people also commonly experience age-related decline and diseases such as bone loss and gum inflammation leading to periodontal disease.
“As dentists, we see our patients over the span of their life,” said researcher Jonathan An, DDS, acting professor of oral health sciences.
“As our patients grow older, we as dentists see clinically firsthand the underlying consequences of aging in the mouth, such as increased risk for periodontal disease, root cavities, or low saliva,” said An.
“And many of the treatments we currently provide address the symptoms rather than the underlying cause, which is age. With what we’ve learned about rapamycin, there are a lot of possibilities to look anew at a number of dental conditions,” said An.
In their studies of rapamycin in old mice, the researchers found that the drug significantly changed the oral microbiome. The researchers also discovered that old animals not only had a different oral microbiome than young animals, but also that rapamycin treatment reversed changes in the old oral microbiome, making it more similar to that found in younger animals.
The researchers caution that much work remains before human clinical treatments with rapamycin become a reality. While both male and female mice saw their lifespan extended with rapamycin, the effects are stronger in females than in males.
Also, even though the drug is approved for use in humans, the researchers must determine the optimum dosage for bone regeneration or microbiome de-aging, as well as the best mode of application.
“We’ve been asking ourselves now: What’s happening in the mouth as a function of age, and can we target these biological changes with interventions to extend the oral health span?” said An.
“What makes this so exciting is that we could potentially be supplementing fundamental ideas of oral health, where by targeting the biological aging processes we may be able to provide a unique approach toward prognostics, diagnostics, and even the treatment of age-related dysfunction in our mouths,” said An.