Everyone wants smoother skin, thicker hair, and an absence of wrinkles as they age. In essence, everyone wants to hold onto the virtues of youth. Yet, we haven’t quite been able to find a cure for baldness, let alone a cure for that inevitable decline in health, beauty, and vigor we all must face at some point. We can gather all the anti-aging creams, vitamin supplements, and Botox we want, but these are temporary solutions; what we’ve all been holding out for is some magical elixir that will be some form of a fountain of youth.

According to a new study, researchers may have finally made some steps toward a potential anti-aging drug (and no, it’s not exercise, though workouts certainly have a positive impact on keeping you young). The medication, which is a version of the drug known as rapamycin, proved to boost seniors’ immune systems with regard to flu vaccine responses by 20 percent. The study was published in Science Translational Medicine.

Rapamycin belongs to a group of drugs called mTOR inhibitors, which have been shown in previous studies to work as anti-aging agents. As people age, mTOR's genetic pathways seem to have a negative effect, even though they support healthy growth in children (this goes for all mammals). So, using rapamycin to inhibit the mTOR genetic pathway could, in theory, delay aging. In a 2013 study, for example, researchers discovered that rapamycin worked to increase both “mean and maximum life spans” in mice.

However, this is the first time that researchers are studying rapamycin’s effect in humans. While more research is needed to better gauge whether rapamycin can extend a human lifespan like it does in mice, the study shows that it boosts older people’s immune systems, particularly against the flu, which can be especially dangerous to elderly. For the study, older participants who received the experimental dose of rapamycin had 20 percent more antibodies in response to the flu vaccine than people who didn’t get rapamycin. In addition, rapamycin decreased the amount of white blood cells that are typically linked to aging and immune decline.

Scientists have been working on creating an anti-aging elixir for some time. Last year, a study conducted by Harvard University and the University of New South Wales examined a different pathway toward the same end, by injecting a chemical called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) into mice, which reversed the aging process. But developing a drug using this compound would take several more years.

“Aging is the major risk factor for the killers we’re afraid of,”  said Dr. Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City and an author of the newest study, according to HealthDay. “If the aging is the major risk, the way to extend people’s live and improve their health is to delay aging.” Calling the study a baby step, Barzilai said “it sets the stage for using this drug to target aging, to improve everything about aging. That’s really going to be, for us, a turning point in research, and we are very excited.”

Source: Mannick J, Del Giudice G, Lattanzi M, Valiante N, Praestgaard J, Huang B. mTOR inhibition improves immune function in the elderly. Sciene Translational Medicine. 2014.