About one million years ago Rano Kau Volcano erupted violently through the South Pacific Nazca tectonic plate, creating Easter Island. Recently, this island has gained notoriety as a poster child for man-made ecological disasters. In the middle of the 20th Century scientists were curious as to why the remaining native inhabitants, who walked barefoot over the ragged sharp surfaces of the island’s volcanic rock, did not acquire tetanus. To solve this mystery, they collected soil sample from several locations on the island. In 1972, soil samples found on the far side of Rano Kau’s crater (behind the rainbow) were discovered to contain the bacterium Streptomyces hygroscopicus which produces the antibiotic rapamycin. Today the crater is off limits to humans – and stands as a testament to nature’s destructive & creative forces.
Studies following Rapamycin’s discovery showed that it exhibited multiple properties, including antibacterial, antifungal and immunosuppressive effects. Rapamycin inhibits antigen-induced T cell and B cell proliferation and antibody formation. The FDA approved rapamycin as an immunosuppressant anti-rejection drug for patients following organ (kidney) transplantation and more recently as an internal coating for coronary stents to prevent post-implant intimal hyperplasia.
Rapamycin was also found to inhibit the growth of a number of tumor cell lines leading the NCI to declare it a priority drug. Rapamycin has been applied to several medical maladies including cancer (mTOR, mammalian target of rapamycin, is the most commonly mutated pathway of human cancers), auto-immune diseases, transplantation, cardiovascular disease, and Type 1 Diabetes. Recent studies in mice suggest that rapamycin has life-prolonging properties. Not a pot of gold, but a fountain of youth at the end of the rainbow!