Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Telomerase Activation Redux

Founder of T.A. Sciences Noel Thomas Patton read my recent blog post entitled Ending Old Age through Telomerase Activation, and called me on the phone to offer his feedback. Specifically, he made a point of questioning the accuracy of my claim that "there are many cell types in the human body that never stop reproducing," and he was right to do so. The only healthy cells in the human body that do not eventually become post-mitotic are germ cells, and the only way that germ cells remain immortal is by being passed on to one's descendants through sexual reproduction. Even stem cells will eventually "run out of gas" and become post-mitotic if organismal senescence does not kick in, albeit through a telomerase independent senescence mechanism, which is why I am convinced that telomerase therapy is the first and most critical step on the path to immortality.

Patton and I talked for the better part of an hour, and more than once he qualified his assertions regarding the small molecule telomerase activator known as TA-65 [PDF] (which T.A. Sciences has licensed from the Geron Corporation) and the potential benefits of the Patton Protocol with the statement, "I am not a scientist." Truth be told, my somewhat eclectic resume would not qualify me as a scientist per se, but that doesn't stop me from saying with a great deal of scientific certainty that any regimen of nutritional supplements comes with inherent health risks, and the Patton Protocol is no exception. Even so, the risks are minimal at this time, and if I were 75 years old, I'd say that the risks were negligible; I'd even be willing to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt to pay for the Patton Protocol at that age. Moreover, if I had a child who was suffering from a premature aging disease like progeria, I would say that the potential benefits of giving that child TA-65 as a dietary supplement far outweighed any of the financial costs or potential (and as of yet unobserved) side effects. However, I am hard pressed to believe that anyone else under the age of 50 would substantially benefit from such a regimen, a fortiori if his or her father or grandfather lived past the age of 80.

Although he is "not a scientist," Patton suggested that someone in his or her 40s would benefit substantially from the Patton Protocol, and that the only contra-indication he could think of would be the potential for cancer in certain individuals. Of course, another reason not to go on the Patton Protocol at this time is the fact that a year long regimen of TA-65 currently costs $25,000.00. Even if your net worth is in excess of ten million dollars, that's a lot of money for a nutritional supplement, a fortiori if you are not suffering from any age-related medical conditions. On this note, one of the great luminaries in the field of rejuvenation research is Michael J. Fossel, M.D. whose interest in the field was sparked by his work with children suffering from progeria. Back in 1997, Dr. Fossel accurately predicted that human trials of telomerase therapy would begin in the next ten years, and that victims of progeria would have little to lose from such treatment in terms of life expectancy and everything to gain. Unfortunately, the Patton Protocol cannot be tested on such individuals without dealing with an enormous amount of government red tape. Just one more example of your tax dollars, hard at work.

Patton made a point of downplaying the notion that TA-65 might be the key to immortality. However, if TA-65 does in fact activate telomerase systemically throughout the human body, and thereby lengthens the telomeres at the end of DNA strands, then it is without a doubt a key ingredient of the philosopher's stone. Beyond that, I think it's safe to say that the next major scientific challenge of rejuvenation research will be overcoming the problems that arise from deleterious mutations of mitochondrial DNA. And beyond that, I'd say that medical science has a century or two to figure out what the next major challenge of rejuvenation research will be and how to deal with it.

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