San Jose Aug 21-23
Herbal Telomerase Activators
As far as I know, Product B is the best commercial telomerase activation product. (For background read this blog entry. All currently available telomerase activators are inadequate, and they may have only nominal effect – we don’t know.) Product B is manufactured by Isagenix, based on cell culture testing at Sierra Sciences. Sierra screened hundreds of herbal products, reporting their results to Isagenix in black-box mode, blind to what they were testing.
I now believe that the lowest-level ingredients in Product B (last on the list) are more potent than the highest-level ingredients (first on the list). For the last nine months, I have been supplementing with the first four herbal ingredients in Product B: Silymarin, Ashwagandha, Horny Goat Weed and Bacopa. I plan to look into the last six ingredients: Boswellia, Maca, Hawthorn, Harada, Shilajit and Chia seed extract. Complete list of ingredients here.
Note that there are no extracts of astragalus in Product B. I have contradictory information about whether cycloastragenol is a telomerase activator.
George Church of Harvard’s Stem Cell Institute led the conference off with a summary of progress in CRISPR technology. I had never heard of CRISPR until last year. As of last year, it was a way to gain more control in genetic engineering. A protein could be engineered to seek out and bind to a specific spot on a specific chromosome, so that the experimenter could now specify where in the gene would be inserted.
Well, that was so last year. Now the protein has been replaced with an RNA sequence that can be specified as an exact complement to the particular region of DNA that is targeted. Easier, and more reliable. And – this is the biggest news of the conference – CRISPR can now be married to a gene promoter or repressor, so that particular genes can be turned on and off using CRISPR. This is possible not just in cells but in living organisms, potentially in you and me.
It is my belief that aging is controlled to a great extent by gene expression. Young gene expression creates a young body. Our bodies know how to be young, if we instruct them to do so. Well, we now have the language to tell the body to be young. We also have a good selection of genes to start with, genes for hormones that we have too little or too much of as we age. What are we waiting for.
A questioner asked George about interaction with “chromatin state”. In any given cell, at any given time, some of the DNA is unwrapped and available for expression, called euchromatin, while the rest, called heterochromatin, is spooled around protein spindles (histones). George indicated that the CRISPR technique works a lot better on euchromatin than on heterochromatin, as we would expect, but that it works some even on heterochromatin, and we’re learning rapidly.
CRISPR is a very new technology, still in the explosive stage of development, and I promise to write a full post about it soon.
Ecological consequences of longevity
Caleb Finch, who wrote the book on genetics of aging more than 20 years ago, still carries an encyclopedic knowledge of research in the field. At RB2014, he placed aging and anti-aging in the context of human imact on the environment and environmental impact on humans. Anti-aging leads to population growth, unless we can couple it with reduced fertility. Population growth leads to habitat loss, species extinctions, and loss of biodiversity. Population density also contributes to pollution, which can accelerate aging. Particulate pollution, associated with diesel engines especially, accelerates amyloid deposits and cognitive decline. Air pollution also exacerbates heart disease. Alzheimer’s Disease has been increasing steadily the last 40 years as heart disease has been in decline.
I learned from Judith Campisi that senescent cells send out signals that potentiate cancer, and from Evan Snyder that stem cells send out signals that promote growth and health of cells nearby. Yea, stem cells! Boo, senescent cells! Only recently, it had been thought that senescent cells were merely slackers, no longer able to perform their function, but it turns out that they emit signals that have a negative systemic effect as well. Only recently, it had been thought that healthy stem cells were able to repair and rebuild damaged tissue, but it turns out that they emit signals that have a positive systemic effect as well. These are global signaling properties that are just coming into focus.
Brock Reeve of Harvard Stem Cell Institute gave us an update on recent work on the signal protein called GDF11 (for Growth Differentiation Factor), which circulates in the blood. We have less GDF11 as we get older. Just this spring, two article came out in Science which demonstrate that GDF11 can stimulate growth of new neurons and muscles. Last year, it had been reported that GDF11 also can reverse damage to aged hearts. It may be impractical to administer GDF11 intravenously as a systemic rejuvenating factor, but the race is on to discover promoter treatments that enhance expression of our native GDF11 gene.
Skepticism from the conference organizer
I found it ironic that Aubrey de Grey, whose SENS Foundation sponsoted the conference, expressed skepticism about this whole approach to aging. He sees aging as a matter of accumulated damage rather than perverse signaling, and he imagines that epigenetic changes that happen with age are actually evolved for the body’s benefit. He distinguished systematic epigenetic shifts with age, which he thinks are beneficial, from random epigenetic drift, which he thinks is detrimental.
Stem cell therapy for heart disease
Linda Marban of Capricor Inc in Los Angeles reported on research to cells from the patient himself, treat them in vitro to turn them into stem cells, grow the stem cells in a petri dish, and then inject them into the patient’s heart, where they can repair damaged tissue. The technology was described several years ago in this Nature article.
Stem cells to treat Parkinson’s Disease
Stephen Minger reported on the potential for applying this same technique to teat Parkinson’s Disease. Foetal stem cells have already been used with some success, though, of course, they tend to be rejected by the patient’s immune system. Using induced pluripotent stem cells (IPS cells) derived fromt the patient’s own cells should solve this problem. It is now known that the brain already contains stem cells, and that in cases of stroke and brain traum, stem cells migrate to the site of the damage and activate to repair the damage. Minger speculates that new nerve cells might be routinely required in order to form new memories.
OVERALL, I had the impression that there are now significant anti-aging technologies poised to move out of the lab and into testing and marketing. Funding issues, marketing, regulation and logistics will impose frustrating delays.