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article imageNew Research Yields Latest Age-Defying Drug

By Cristina Quiñones     Aug 18, 2009 in Science
Recently, evolutionary biologists were left scratching their heads when a single chemical was deemed responsible for increasing the lifespan of several species of laboratory specimens.
While these results do not guarantee instant success in human trials, this breakthrough has restored hope in many research scientists that the human life span may someday be prolonged without exercise, dieting or any other such strenuous effort.
Since as early as the 1930s, scientists have lauded calorie restriction as a viable way to extend human life. Experiments conducted on mice have repeatedly shown that those kept on a healthy diet with 30 percent fewer calories than the control group lived 30 or 40 percent longer, with decreased fertility being the only evident setback. Since most people, however, are unable or unwilling to maintain such a diet for any part, let alone all, of their natural lifespan, researchers have continued to hunt for a more convenient fountain of youth.
Although scientists have yet to identify the specific pathway stimulated by the restricted calorie diet, their research has uncovered genes that produce the proteins that are activated by a caloric restriction diet. Originally discovered by Dr. Leonard P. Guarente of M.I.T., sirt genes are found in both people and mice. These genes produce sirtuins, which are activated when the energy reserves within cells are low. Although sirtuins can be activated by a low calorie diet, Dr. Guarente and his fellow researchers also found that sirtuins can be activated chemically.
Since Dr. Guarente’s initial experiments, the chemical resveratrol has become the focus of the anti-aging investigation for its apparent ability to activate sirtuins. Since small amounts of resveratrol are found in the skins of red grapes, it has been long suspected by some scientists of being the cause of the French paradox.
As a matter of fact, the oldest person ever recorded was a Frenchwoman named Jean Calmet who lived to be 122. Calmet attributed her longevity to her ability to remain unflappable during stressful situations and smiling often. It is also reported that she ate over two pounds of chocolate a week, treated her skin with olive oil, smoked cigarettes on and off until she was 117 and, of course, drank plenty of red wine.
While it is true that resveratrol is found in red wine, it is unlikely that this alone can account for the longevity of the French. Over 1,000 bottles of red wine would need to be consumed to match the dose used on the specimens in the anti-aging study. Luckily, Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, of Cambridge, Mass., is already hard at work packing 1,000 plus bottles of red wine's worth of resveratrol into a pill. The company is now in the midst of a series of clinical trials of the drug and is testing its effects on diabetes and other rehabilitating diseases. The drugs are not currently being tested for their anti-aging effects because the Food and Drug Administration does not approve drugs that delay aging because aging is not viewed as a disease.
In spite of the positive data gathered from various anti-aging experiments, some evolutionary biologists have warned that extending longevity may not be as easy as popping a pill because of certain irreversible evolutionary traits.
Some researchers, however, continue to regard these biologists as cynically as teenagers arguing with their elders. According to The New York Times Gary Ruvkun of the Massachusetts General Hospital said, “My rule of thumb is to ignore the evolutionary biologists — they’re constantly telling you what you can’t think.”
Other scientists, however, argue that the results of the laboratory studies may not relate to humans because the animals being tested do not have the longevity potential of human beings and are rarely subject to the debilitating diseases that many people face in old age.
Some also claim that the results of the laboratory studies are skewed because of the unnatural diet of the control groups. Since animals such as mice live on a reduced calorie diet when in the wild, the controls in these experiments are often being overfed while the experimental groups are fed an amount of food that is natural to them.
As of yet, there is no clear-cut scientific solution to the problem of aging. Nature has demonstrated time and time again that evolution is the path to longevity. All over the world there are trees that are thousands of years old and marine species with the capacity to outlive most human beings. The catch, however, is that, while human beings have been around for 100,000 - 200,000 years, the first plants and species of fish began evolving 416–359.2 million ago. In other words, it could take a heck of a long time for people to evolve to the point where they are consistently living past 200. According to lead researchers in the anti-aging investigation, this is time that we do not have.
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