As one of the first baby-boomers, I will begin collecting Social Security cheques this coming November, after turning 62 in September. So, it was with much interest that I recently picked up the book " The Denial of Aging-Perpetual Youth, Eternal Life, and Other Dangerous Fantasies"--Muriel R. Gillick, M.D. (2006).
A review on the back cover noted, " Finally, a book that tells the truth about aging, starting with the fact that eating right and exercising will not prevent it. Dr. Gillick provides a fascinating guide for the journey into old age, and shows us how to make the best of it. Boomers (and most other grown-ups) will find her book right on target."-- Marcia Angell, former Editor in Chief, New England Journal of Medicine, and author of "The Truth about the Drug Companies."
The following are excerpts from Dr. Gillick's chapter entitled "The Lure of Immortality",
'...Today's reality entails treating, and trying to cure, one disease at a time, which just props up failing bodies. Pro-longevists are fully cognizant of the limitations of this approach to aging. Proponents of a view known as the unitary theory of aging...see...the right approach to controlling aging is to shut off the process altogether. This theory, which holds that there is an on/off switch, implies that finding the switch and learning how to control it will lead to the simultaneous preservation of the function of all bodily systems. The result, according to Richard Miller, a reputable pro-longevity scientist, will be an increase in the average lifespan to 112 years and in the maximum lifespan to 140 years.'
'Scientists are hot on the trail of the switch...'
'...It is possible that scientists will discover indirect ways of influencing the switch, even if they can't figure out precisely how to turn it off. One possible strategy, in vogue in the 1990's, is to manipulate telomeres. All chromosomes have mysterious repeating sequences of DNA at their tips, known as telomeres. As cells divide and age, the telomeres become shorter and shorter until, at some critical length, the cells can no longer divide. The enzyme telomerase prevents telomeres from shortening, in principle conferring immortality on cells, allowing them to multiply indefinitely. Michael West, a colorful, charismatic, and controversial scientist, was one of the early believers in telomeres as the key to aging. 10 West--erstwhile fundamentalist Christian born again as a physician and then anew as a molecular biologist--started with a company he called Geron to isolate the gene for telomerase. The gene was found and sequenced by scientists under contract to Geron, but the leap from a DNA sequence to a pill for immortality has proved as great as the leap from C. elegans [a one- millimeter worm popular among biologists who study aging] to human beings. West himself has moved onto other strategies for life extension, principally centered on therapeutic cloning, or the use of stem cells to make new body parts to replace worn-out old ones. He continues to believe that death is the enemy, commenting that "the life cycle [is] completely unacceptable."...
MrKen wholeheartedly agrees with that last quote!
Footnote '10' An excellent book about the scientific pursuit of life extension, which features an engaging and extensive account of the activities and antics of Michael West, is Stephen Hall's Merchants of Immortality: Chasing the Dream of Human Life Extension (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2003).
Links to a review of this book: http://www.hup.harvard.edu/catalog/GILDEN.html