Human beings grow old and die. This is an unavoidable fact of life. However, there have been exciting discoveries about mechanisms that have demonstrated the ability to extend life in other organisms.
In 1993, work by the geneticist Cynthia Kenyon in the roundworm C. elegans demonstrated that a single gene mutation resulted in roundworms with twice the lifespan of regular worms (see reference in: Nature. 1993 Dec 2;366(6454):461-4.) Based on her findings, Cynthia and her partner went on to form Elixir Pharmaceuticals with a goal of finding a small molecule that would modify enzymes in the sirtuin family toward a longer overall human lifespan. The challenge with small molecule pharmacology is that it’s difficult to design a small molecule that will have the effect you want on a target, low toxicity, and sufficient availability at the target site after being absorbed by the intestines. Elixir Pharmaceuticals stopped its once promising work in this field because of these pharmacology issues.
Other examples of anti-aging models have arisen over the years. The idea of reprogramming adult cells to become less differentiated, such as in “iPSCs” research, is another concept that has applications for anti-aging. Others have experimented with increasing the activity of telomerase enzymes that increase the length of telomeres on chromosomes. At the cellular level these reprogramming efforts have been successful in rejuvenating cells to behave younger.
Whatever shape the method behind reprogramming cells to be younger takes, smart drugs and advanced vehicles like the ones we are building are necessary for any practical applications in extending the human lifespan.
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