“One of the most promising new fields of science and medicine is the area of cell therapies and their use in regenerative medicine. These new technologies, most of which are in early stages of development, hold significant promise for transformative and potentially curative treatments for some of humanity’s most troubling and intractable maladies.”
~US Food and Drug Administration, August 28, 2017
My semi-scientific understanding of aging is that human cells can replicate themselves 40-60 times (The Hayflick Limit) before they become senescent and die. In this gradually degenerative process, the body becomes less able to defend against the diseases of old age. That’s what happens to all of us naturally - unless something else, like Ebola or war– gets us first.
But now, the science of human aging is challenging the Hayflick Limit. In 2009 Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider (researchers at UCSF), and Jack Szostak (Harvard) were awarded a Nobel Prize for their work (in the 1980’s) with telomeres. Like most things scientific, the details of their discoveries are well above my pay grade, but I have read Dr. Blackburn’s book The Telomere Effect1. In that
With each cell replication, our telomeres grow shorter, causing each chromosome repeat to be less accurate than the one before. Our skin begins to wrinkle, for example. This is how the health and length of our telomeres
The essence of the Blackburn, Greider, and Szostak discovery is that some cells (reproductive cells and most cancer cells) - which are not subject to The Hayflick Limit – are made that way by the presence of the enzyme telomerase. Telomerase somehow prevents the shortening of telomeres, but it is not present in our normal somatic (body and brain) cells. So, as our telomeres shorten, our cells age, and we age with them.
But, here is where I get really excited: Michael Fossel earned both
Thankfully, Dr. Fossel has also written The Telomerase Revolution2 for people like me - people with limited intelligence and extra-long to-do lists. This book is only two hundred
Dr. Fossel makes clear that we are still in the early stages of testing both the telomere theory and telomerase treatments. But, he is also very sure of himself when he writes:
Within the next decade or two, the projected mean human
Dr. Fossel isn’t selling vitamin supplements, though I’m not opposed to that. Indeed, I’m a vitamin junkie. Rather, Dr. Fossel is a former professor of Biology of Aging at Michigan
I‘m not qualified to judge the science, but I have lived long enough to expect medical miracles. Indeed, in many ways, I am one. You may be, too. One hundred years ago, most people died of infectious diseases; now, thanks to modern pharmacology, almost no one does. In the year 1900, average life expectancy at birth was only forty-seven years. So, I tell my grandchildren to take good care of their bodies, because they might have to live in them for a hundred years or more. (Confession: I’d like to have that problem myself.) A lot more – and I believe it.
More to the purpose of this essay, though, I’ve been thinking about the investment and financial implications of longer lifespans for many years. So, I’ll have much more to say on that topic. For today, though, let me just put a bug in your brain: If 100 becomes the new 60 – and I believe it will – our plans and attitudes toward work, and retirement, and legacy will have to change. (Keep in mind, I’m not talking about being older longer; I’m suggesting that people will be younger longer.) Imagine the possibilities. Until next week,
PATIENCE, DISCIPLINE, and CONFIDENCE in the FUTURE!
- The Telomere Effect, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn
andDr. Elissa Epel, Grand Central Publishing, 2017.
- The Telomerase Revolution, Michael Fossel, MD, PhD., Ben Bella Books, 2015, 2017.
Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.