I don't know how to write this. Some of you know me as a political writer, and perhaps you've seen my satire, posted just today. This article is not satire.
The other hurdle we must clear before I can start this story is that "medical breakthroughs" are hyped routinely, and most of the discoveries in the science headlines never pan out. This is especially true in medical applications.
But "anti-aging breakthroughs" are the worst. Google the term and you get 9 million hits. On top of the list is the latest face cream from Olay and a new supplement from the Harvard professor who sold his last "anti-aging breakthrough" to Glaxo Smithkline for $720 million before they scrapped it as unworkable. Then there's the story of Ponce de Leon and, before him, Tithonus in ancient Greece, and the oldest book still extant, the story of Gilgamesh.
If I want you to believe that there really has been an anti-aging breakthrough, then one more skeptical retort I should anticipate is, "why am I reading this at OpEdNews, not in Science Daily or the New York Times?"
Eventually, the slow-moving, conservative press will catch up.
Here's the story
I'll tell it from my personal perspective. My "day job" is study of the science of aging. I'm well-acquainted with the community. I have a perspective about what aging is that separates me from the majority. I believe that aging is coordinated throughout the body. The body doesn't just fall apart piecemeal, but rather there are signal molecules in the blood that orchestrate the body's self-destruction. (I wrote a book on this a few years ago.)
Just in the last decade, there has been a rush of venture capital and university research going into a race for anti-aging remedies. The great majority of these are approaching the problem through cell chemistry. They look at the damage that accumulates in biomolecules, and they look for ways to fix it.
But a handful of labs have latched on to the theme of signal molecules in the blood. For example, there's the Conboy lab at Berkeley, the Wyss-Coray lab at Stanford, and the Wagers lab at Harvard. There are also several companies seeking to commercialize treatments based on signal molecules in the blood (e.g., Alkahest, Ambrosia). The hard part of this problem is that there are thousands of different kinds of molecules in blood plasma, and they change from minute to minute. There's no clear way to figure out which of these molecules are the important ones for aging.
Surprisingly, the breakthrough didn't come from any of these well-funded places, but from a semi-retired biochemist named Harold Katcher who had an idea about which of these molecules were the important ones. Two years ago, he convinced an Indian entrepreneur/scientist to front a small amount of money (I don't know how much, but well under $100,000) to set up a lab in Mumbai and test his treatment.
The molecules were refined from the blood young lab rats and injected into 6 old lab rats. The 6 old rats showed remarkable signs of being younger. They were stronger, more active, and better able to solve problems than they were before the treatment. Certain blood tests (e.g., blood sugar, cholesterol, inflammation markers) also scored younger after treatment.
I have been following Katcher through this process. We've become friends based on the fact that we agree on a minority view of aging. Last year, I wrote up Katcher's early success in my blog.
Based on his preliminary success, Katcher attracted some more investment, and went back to Mumbai for another year, this time with 100 rats to try variations in timing and dosage.
What we really want to know is, Did the rats live longer? But since rats live for 2-3 years, it's too early to tell. In the meantime, we have the next best thing, and for this I'll introduce another thread to the story.
The question of "how you identify an anti-aging remedy" has attracted a good deal of attention, quite apart from looking for the remedy. Waiting for animals to die and counting them is a slow, expensive process. And waiting for humans to die, you have to have a study that lasts 20 years. The breakthrough in the field of measuring age came 7 years ago from Steve Horvath of UCLA. He is a bio-mathematician, and he developed a test which he calls "DNA methylation age".
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