Determining the age of cells
Indeed, despite all the advances and expertise, human performance begins to decline at age 30 – on average one percent per year of life. But why do some people age faster than others? And how can science even measure the age of a cell? For the longest time, the credit went to telomeres – the ends of chromosomes which tend to fray after a certain number of cell divisions. Telomere data, however, were not quite accurate enough. In 2013, Steve Horvath of the University of California, Los Angeles discovered the “epigenetic clock”, which is able to accurately determine age within a range of 3.6 years: a milestone for scientists.
Age in and of itself is of course not a disease – which is why clinical trials of any agent that only aims to prolong life may not be approved. Old age, however, is generally accompanied by numerous maladies. The last phase of life is often plagued by age-related illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dementia or cancer. Does it have to be so? It is a fact that more and more prominent and powerful investors, including, for example, Google co-founder Larry Page, Paypal founder Peter Thiel and Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, invest in research companies like the California startup “Altos Labs”, which has raised over 270 million dollars in the hope of beating age at its game.
Sales of longevity products are on the rise
The sector benefits from the method of “biologic reprogramming” which has already allowed the rejuvenation of ageing cells in the laboratory. In an interview (page 14), gerontologist Dr. Sebastian Grönke explains how it works, as well as some of the drawbacks specific to how the method is applied to the human species. The transformation of cells using genetic factors, however, is not the only method – research companies like “Neteos” in Germany, as well as “Alkahest”, “Life Biosciences” and “Turn Biotechnologies” in the United States, are working to turn the wheels of time with the help of blood plasma. The dream of a long and healthy life is boosting business. In 2021, “Business Insider“ predicted revenues of 216 billion US dollars, up from 2015 revenues of slightly less than 140 billion dollars.
In the lab, eternal youth is studied using fruit flies and nematodes, as well as the vertebrate species killifish, and mice. Approaches where older killifish received transplanted intestinal bacteria from younger members of the same species are promising, and young blood plasma gave nematodes back their fitness and flexibility. In addition, the administration of anti-inflammatory and rejuvenating proteins led to improved memory function. While such experiments are impressive, human benefit remains uncertain.
According to the expert opinion of Sebastian Grönke, two additional options are beginning to take shape: “In the laboratory, we achieved life extension for flies of 30 to 40 percent using a combination of two cancer drugs and lithium.” The advantages: the drugs are already approved, and cancer is considered to be one of the age-associated diseases. Apparently, it is the combination that makes the difference, as “one substance alone achieved a maximum of 10 percent life extension.” Initial US Studies testing the diabetes drug metformin in humans are expecting similarly encouraging results.
On a strict diet
Science agrees on the fact that the influence of genes on longevity is comparatively small, at only 10 to 15 percent. Lifestyle is key. Dr. Sven Voelpel, Professor of Business Administration at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, known for his books including “Decide for yourself how old you are” (“Entscheide selbst, wie alt du bist”), wants to employ behavioral correction in order to come closer to a fountain of youth formula. Grönke’s animal experiments, too, point in a similar direction: the rodents lived longer with intermittent fasting and a carbohydrate-rich diet. Grönke’s team puts mice on a diet: the animals receive only 60 percent of their customary portions – once per day. This measure alone prolonged their life spans by 30 to 40 percent.