BY: NATHANIEL ASTUDILLO
What if there was a pill you could take that extended your life by ten, twenty, fifty years? We have a whole discipline devoted to that, actually.
A life-extending pill might sound like science fiction but by understanding the body and its biological processes, scientists are able to identify the causes of disease and counteract them. As for curing death, it comes down to this: Can we stop cells from aging? The short answer is, sort of.
The current formula for a longer life is a cocktail of healthy food, antibiotics and vaccines; but before I tell you the secret to eternal life, you need to understand aging.
As we age, our cells stop doing their jobs as well as they used to. They slowly become more susceptible to disease. Why? It all has to do with our telomeres and the genetic code in our DNA that they protect.
Healthy food, antibiotics and vaccines can all slow down aging, but the shortening of telomeres will still have a large effect.
When a cell divides, it unravels its DNA and copies the genetic code contained in it. The two cells then have a near-identical copy of the genetic sequence. Every time a cell duplicates its genetic code, it makes tiny mistakes, called mutations, and, loses a small portion of the code’s end, or telomere.
Chromosomes are X-shaped bundles of genes. Telomeres are “caps” at the end of each chromosome, made up of a repeating nucleotide (gene code) sequence of TTAGGG. They protect the genes from damage when they’re copied. Damaged genes don’t produce proper proteins. Without the proper proteins, cells stop being able to do their jobs as well and eventually die. When cells die, so do our organ systems, and thus begins the end of our lives.
Enter TA-65. It contains a compound called Cycloastragenol, which is derived from several species of plant in the Astragalus genus. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the species have been used in Traditional Chinese Medicine for thousands of years.
The compound activates telomerase in the human body. That means the cells don’t undergo any loss of genetic information as they duplicate. The genes remain undamaged.
This has been successfully demonstrated in mice. Mice that have been genetically engineered to completely lack telomerase age faster, are largely infertile, and are more susceptible to age-related conditions than normal mice. They also died much younger.
Lab mice were engineered to lack telomerase, which caused them to age faster, become infertile, and be more susceptible to age-related conditions than usual, showing how important telomerase is.
To see what effect telomerase would have, the mice were allowed to reach adulthood, when telomerase was reactivated for a month. After that month had passed, their health was assessed. Testes that had shriveled grew back to normal, and the mice displayed increased fertility. Other organs affected by the lack of telomerase, such as the spleen, liver, and intestines, recuperated from their less-than-perfect state.
Most interestingly, the mice with reactivated telomerase had larger brains than the mice lacking the enzyme. The telomerase-rich mice also showed signs of reversed aging in the brain.
Amazing as the study may be, there are some considerations. The mice were subjected to conditions that humans aren’t, so the use of telomerase as an anti-aging treatment in humans is likely to have mixed results. There’s also the fact that humans and mice are only about 85 percent genetically identical. That remaining 15 percent leaves quite a lot of room for error.
Mice with reactivated telomerase had increased fertility, recuperated intestines, and reverse aging in the brain, showing that telomerase can act as an anti-aging agent.
There’s also worry surrounding telomere research, as telomerase is mutated in some cancers and tends to make tumours grow faster. Some researchers argue that, by protecting damage to our DNA, telomerase should prevent cells from becoming cancerous in the first place.
While telomere shortening isn’t the only factor that contributes to human aging, it’s certainly an interesting step forward for medical science. The alleged wonder-drug TA-65 is currently available online. Reviews are mixed, but the FDA considers it to be “Generally Recognized as Safe.” I’d certainly give it a try. A shot at immortality seems too good to pass up.
Image sourcing: thespiritscience.net