Archive for the ‘Science of Aging’ Category

Dogs With Cancer Helping to Find a Cure

04 Dec

A story I wrote for US News about dogs helping in the search for cancer cures is featured in an issue called Mysteries of Science: Amazing Animals. It’s not directly related to anti-aging medicine, though cancer is considered a disease of aging, so I applaud this comprehensive and humane research, which is known in scientific circles as “comparative oncology.”

Read the story here.

And I’m looking for more stories from pet owners who have participated in cancer research. If you’d like to tell your story, contact me at

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New on HuffPo: New Study Shows Moderate Exercise Prevents Premature Aging

02 Mar

Mice that ran on a treadmill a few times a week for five months fended off premature aging in nearly every organ of their bodies, according to a study published on February 21, 2011 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It’s one of the strongest pieces of evidence ever produced showing the power of exercise as an anti-aging remedy.

Read more at Huffington Post.

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Posted in Lifestyle, Science of Aging


Penn Gazette: Habitat for (Aging) Humanity

17 Jan

The January/February issue of the University of Pennsylvania’s alumni magazine, the Gazette, features an October conference that was held at the college in October. The event, called “New Aging: International Conference on Aging and Architecture,” brought together a range of experts in the field of aging. I was invited there to talk about Selling the Fountain of Youth, and I was quoted in the Gazette story as someone who rejects the idea that getting old is a disease.

As the story points out, what made this conference different was that it wasn’t just about architecture. Rather it was meant to get people thinking about aging in all its dimensions. Among the other speakers: Sylvana Joseph, who co-authored a humor book about sex and aging, and Aubrey de Grey, a world-renowned scientist who believes science should bring an end to aging.

Read more here.

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New on HuffPo: Could Thalidomide be Resurrected as the Fountain of Youth?

20 Dec

On December 13, researchers at the University of California at San Francisco said they had identified a derivative of thalidomide that seems to rejuvenate the immune systems of aging people. When they tested the drug in small doses on cell cultures taken from 13 patients, it stimulated the production of proteins called “cytokines.” That may, in turn, reduce the age-related inflammation that causes overall health to deteriorate.

Read more here.

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Technology Review: Predicting How Long You’ll Live

03 Dec

For most of the past century, the financial-services industry has used actuarial tables to design life-insurance policies, pensions, and other products based on predictions of human lifespan. These life tables” rely on historical death rates to predict the future longevity of broadly defined population groups. But human life expectancy has increased dramatically—from 47 years in 1900 to 77 today in the United States, with similar surges around the world, leading to skyrocking pension and healthcare costs. What’s more, sizable variations in longevity have emerged among different subgroups. Thus the financial-services industry no longer considers life tables adequate, as they leave too much room for companies to lose money.

A growing number of corporations and governments are turning to an emerging group of lifespan modelers. These experts are studying the living in an attempt to predict who will make it well into old age—and who won’t.

Read more about lifespan modeling at Technology Review.

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Huffington Post: Scientists Reverse Aging in Mice, But Can They Do it For People?

01 Dec

Courtesy of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute

On Nov. 28, a group of Harvard University researchers published results from a tantalizing study in the online edition of the journal Nature. Their experiment involved mice who were genetically engineered to lack telomerase — an enzyme that maintains protective DNA caps on the end of chromosomes. People (and mice) with long caps, called telomeres, tend to live longer than those with short caps. Without the protective enzyme, these poor Harvard mice die at around six months of age.

Read more here.

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Stealth DNA May Control Aging

03 Nov

Most scientists who study human longevity search for genes that determine who is most likely to make it to age 100. Researchers at the University of Miami are taking a different approach: They’re studying the genes that allow people to stay healthy into old age.

By focusing on Amish people who have lived to 80, the researchers hope to pinpoint the genes that promote “successful aging”—the ability to live without disease, depression, frailty, or loss of independence for longer than average. “We’re looking not just to predict how old you’ll get, but how well you’ll age,” says William K. Scott, professor of human genetics at the university’s school of medicine.

Read more at Technology Review.

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HuffPo: Centenarians on How to Make it to 100

03 Nov

What is it about centenarians that gives them the gift of extraordinarily long lives? On Nov. 1, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York launched a website,, which tracks one scientist’s decade-long quest to answer that question. Dr. Nir Barzilai, director of the college’s Institute for Aging Research, has been studying 500 Ashkenazi Jews age 95 and older, along with 700 of their children. He’s trying to uncover the genes that promote long life — discoveries that he hopes will lead to drugs to prevent age-related diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease.

Read more here.

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Posted in Lifestyle, Science of Aging


Aubrey de Grey Talks Aging with Wired

31 Oct

Aubrey de Grey is one of the most polarizing figures in the field of aging research. That’s because he believes technology will eventually make us immortal. So I read with interest a lengthy interview in Wired, in which he covers a number of topics, including:

* A prize he’s offering to anyone who can grow and transplant a viable organ

* The lack of funding for legitimate aging research (not anti-aging research)

* Why Oprah rarely features real scientists on her show

* Whether anti-aging therapies will on be accessible to the rich

Read the Aubrey de Grey interview here.

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The Search for Eternal Youth, Spanish Style

24 Sep

Imagine my surprise when I opened my e-mail and found a note from a biomedical researcher at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center in Madrid, Spain. His name is Manuel Collado. He  heard about my book, Googled it, and came across this site. “I am totally shocked,” he wrote. Why? Because he also has a blog about the search for eternal youth, “La Fuente de la Eterna Juventud” ( And like me, he is trying to help his readers sort truth from fiction in the many anti-aging claims that are out there.

I asked Manuel for his perspective on anti-aging medicine.

Q: Your specialty as a scientist is cellular senescence. Explain what that is, in laymen’s terms?

A: All the cells that make up our body have a limited potential of proliferation:  When they have undergone a certain number of cell divisions, they permanently stop proliferating. This phenomenon was originally described in the ´60s by Leonard Hayflick and was considered the cellular basis of the aging process. Accordingly, our bodies would stop regenerating because our cells can no longer divide. Later on, research on the enzyme telomerase and the protective structure at the tips of our chromosomes–the telomeres–showed that the cells “decide” to stop proliferating when they “feel” that their telomeres have reached a critically short length due to the erosion they suffer as a consequence of cell division.

Other processes have also been shown to trigger this cellular senescence response in the cell. Many were considered to reflect the natural process of aging, such as the accumulation of oxidative damage, but in the late years of the last century, cellular senescence was revealed as a natural defense mechanism of our bodies against cancer. When an oncogene becomes activated within the cell due to a mutation, or the cell suffers a potentially oncogenic damage, it will induce senescence as a way to make sure that the defect is not propagated into the daughter cells through cell division to form a tumor. We, and others, identified this type of response in human and mouse tissues.

Q: How did this work cause you to become interested in anti-aging medicine?

A: The molecular machinery behind the cellular senescence response is composed of a series of proteins encoded in genes, known as tumor suppressor genes. During cancer development, these tumor suppressor genes are frequently mutated or inactivated to cancel the protective senescence response and allow tumor growth. Strikingly, some of these same tumor suppressor genes appear to become active and increase their expression during aging. This has led many to believe that the increase in tumor suppressors during aging induces cellular senescence, and that the accumulation of these arrested cells causes the dysfunction of tissues characteristic of aging.

Our laboratory has addressed this question by generating mice that were genetically manipulated to express higher doses of these tumor suppressor genes. What we found is that these modified animals are more protected against cancer and at the same time live longer. They developed fewer tumors and less aging-associated pathologies. Their skin, bones, neuromuscular coordination, metabolism, etc, resembled those of younger animals.

At the same time, it is a well-known fact that cancer is mainly a disease of aging. This interplay between cancer and aging, cellular senescence as a tumor suppressor mechanism or the basis of aging, the possibility of enhancing our anti-cancer defenses while at the same time gaining in healthspan (the period of one’s life free from chronic diseases), makes the whole field a very attractive area of research.

Q: The name of your blog, in English, is “The Fountain of Eternal Youth.” What are some of the subjects you write about there?

A: My intention when I started this blog was mainly to provide information on the fantastic research that has been done on the molecular basis of aging. Many molecular pathways have been proposed to be responsible for the aging process and this knowledge has prompted many to propose potential interventions that could result in healthier aging.

Aging is obviously a process governed by multiple and complex factors that we do not fully understand yet, and it is intricately entwined with basic processes of life whose connections still need to be investigated.

However, the rapid communication of spectacular laboratory results–together with the greed of people willing to cash from the logical human desire to remain forever healthy and young–has launched a plethora of un-tested therapies, “miracle” cures, and even bogus remedies.

The blog is still in its infancy, but we have already covered issues such as cellular senescence, telomeres and telomerase, calorie restriction, antioxidants, stem cell-based therapies, and the like.

Q: As you know, there is a lot of misinformation out there about what has actually been proven to extend life (if anything). What is an example of an anti-aging claim that you’ve come across that you think has been overblown or improperly communicated to patients?

A: To start with the first part of your question, there is absolutely nothing that has proven to be effective extending life or even just preventing age-related diseases.

One of the most astonishing anti-aging claims that antioxidants will help people live young forever and avoid cancer and all diseases. While it is true that there is some good solid research on the possible role of oxidative stress as a mediator of the aging pathologies–as well as in cancer development–a clear causative role is far from being proven. The efficacy of an antioxidant intervention, therefore, is even further away from being established. If anything, when tested in clinical trials involving healthy volunteers, it showed that it is more detrimental than beneficial. Still, we constantly receive the message that we should be eating food and drinks containing plenty of antioxidants and even swallowing antioxidant supplements. There is no evidence and no scientific basis to think that this would do any good, only data showing how dangerous it might be.

Q: What is the one thing you tell people they can do right now–safely and effectively–to help extend their lives?

A: Even the more sensible health advice, based on reasonable assumptions, should not be advertized as capable of protecting us from aging or extending our life. Healthy habits such as some regular physical exercise, varied and balanced diet, staying fit and keeping an active network of relationships with friends and family, might not extend our lives, but surely they will make them more enjoyable.

Here’s how to find Manuel:




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