Friday, 29 April 2016

Will Gene Therapy Reverse Aging?

A woman in the USA has recently claimed to have cut 20 years off her biological age with the use of gene therapy, according to Nine News. Elizabeth Parrish, CEO of Bioviva, has used her organisation's own research to lengthen the short telomeres in her cells, which would leave her vulnerable to age-related disease if left alone. Telomeres are caps on the ends of our usually X-shaped DNA bunches, known as chromosomes, which usually shorten as the cell divides, contributing to the aging process as a cell cannot divide without this protection. A statement on Bioviva's website claims that tests were taken in March and independently verified by the Brussels-based HEALES. The Biogerontology Research Foundation in the UK claims that her white blood cells have become biologically younger. The first of the therapies she underwent was to protect against age-related muscle loss, the other was to fight stem cell depletion. However, no clear causal link between telomere length and longevity has been established, with the aging process having large inflammatory and hormonal (loss) involvements. Telomere length may be naturally maintained in the human heart, brain, retina, testes and ovaries, which are not invulnerable to aging, showing the presence of other factors. I have heard of "inflammaging" as a new word, but not telomeraging.

But do we really need something as high-tech as gene therapy to fight aging, even if telomere shortening is solely responsible for it? There may be more accessible options, which would not privilege the wealthy so much. A pilot study on 30 men with low-grade prostate cancer found that comprehensive lifestyle changes were associated with a significant increase in telomerase, the enzyme responsible for rebuilding telomeres. After 3 months, raw values of telomerase increased from 8.05 standard arbitrary units to 10.38 units. Peripheral blood mononuclear cells (a type of immune cell) had telomerase activity, expressed as natural logarithims, increase from 2 to 2.22. These improvements were significantly associated with reductions in LDL cholesterol and psychological distress, a known enemy of telomere length. I am 22 and already get told that I look 3-5 years younger, partly because I don't let things get to me, instead I shake it off Taylor Swift-style. A general distaste for inflammatory substances helps too, as I'd rather feel good so I can actually do things for the day than feel like garbage after a few minutes of pleasure. Lifestyle interventions such as endurance exercise and meditation have been associated with a slowing or even reversal of telomere shortening, as shown by multiple studies in the link above. As for nutritional and herbal medicines, vitamin D (the "sunshine vitamin", hence the image on the right), astragalus, chlorella, St Mary's Thistle and resveratrol may protect and/or lengthen telomeres. Oestrogen and melatonin are two hormones that may also keep telomeres young. With oestrogen, we have been taught at college to upregulate the pathway that results in the less potent, safer 2-hydroxyoestrone, which suppresses levels of the stronger, harmful 16alpha-hydroxyoestrone. My method of choice is rosemary extract. These methods, which can cost nothing (lifestyle), can be grown by almost anyone (herbal medicines), or are already mass-produced (hormones) are more accessible than probably-expensive, patentable gene therapies. They and other studies as described in the GreenMedInfo link are also not an exhaustive list. What I want is antiaging and longevity solutions that are accessible to everyone and to be a millionaire; not for these to be restricted to the wealthy and to be a billionaire.

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