Life Extension Magazine®

Issue: Apr 1998

Contemplating The 'Fountain Of Youth'

Widespread coverage charts cell immortality achieved in the lab. Meanwhile, new anti-aging journals gear up to report future advances.

Scientifically reviewed by: Dr. Gary Gonzalez, MD, on January 2021.


Science Times

At Life Extension, we've been contemplating the prospect of discovering the "fountain of youth" ever since the Foundation was launched in 1980. We've done so because the achievement of an indefinitely long and healthy life span is at the core of our mission. That's why we've been funding innovative anti-aging research, and why our major long-term goal is to develop therapies to extend the healthy human life span.

So, it was with a sense of "What took you so long?" that we greeted the recent announcement by scientists at Geron Corporation that they had induced normal human cells to become immortal without turning into cancer cells. And it was with great glee that we reacted to mass media remarks by scientists that Geron's research could lead to therapies to enable us to live in good health for centuries, even though we're less than confident that this will happen (see "As We See It" in this issue).

Mainstream scientists and media pundits have never taken the concept of discovering a fountain of youth very seriously. They've scoffed at the idea of controlling aging and extending healthy life span as a pipe dream, and come up with one reason after another why aging control isn't possible or desirable. Thus, it is interesting to see how they reacted to a scientific story (on the Geron breakthrough, as reported in Science magazine's issue of January 16) that could actually lead to an extended life span.

Barbara Walters' reaction on ABC's 20/20, also on January 16, was pure shock. At the end of the Geron story, she exclaimed:

"But this will revolutionize our whole society. We have enough problems now dealing with people as they get older. You mean . . . within five or 10 years, there'll be people like you and me who can live to be a 150?"

To that, co-host Hugh Downs responded, "And the hope is that at 150 we'd be like somebody today at 75 to 80. That would be nice if it worked that way." This was followed by Walters saying, "This is . . . extraordinary, and that's an understatement."

While Downs and Walters were contemplating a much longer life span, Woodring Wright, a cell biologist at Southwest Medical Center in Dallas, whose research team participated in the Geron research, was quick to deny that they are anywhere near achieving a fountain of youth.

"Unequivocally, I would say this would not allow you to live forever," said Wright, in a response to Reuter's News Service. "This is not going to be a pill that allows you to live longer any time soon." He said that the natural process that kills off cells is just one component of aging. "It's like when you have a car and at 80,000 miles you replace the engine. You haven't made the car immortal. On average, the car is going to run longer, but then the transmission is going to go out, or the brakes, or something else."

What Wright didn't say is that many gerontologists believe that replacing the "engine" could indeed lead to an extended life span, if you replace the engine that powers a fundamental mechanism of aging. It's far from clear whether the Geron breakthrough will lead to such an engine, but it's also premature to say that it won't.

Science Times In The New York Times of January 20, cancer researcher Robert Weinberg denied that telomere length has anything to do with why people die, or that it would be possible to extend human life by lengthening telomeres with telomerase: "What limits human life span," said Weinberg, "is disease, especially cancer...." What he failed to say, however, is that the risk of cancer (and other age-related diseases) goes up dramatically as a person grows older and many cells die out, and that telomere shortening is one explanation for the death of some of these cells. In short, old people die of diseases primarily because of the aging process.

In another recent New York Times article, on January 13, the answer to the question: "Can Life Span Be Extended?" was "Biologists Offer Some Hope." Meanwhile, an article in the February issue of Penthouse magazine contends that we can achieve physical immortality within 30 years, and that a life span of 250 years or more is on the horizon.

Clearly, the idea of extending the human life span is on everybody's mind, whether they believe it will happen soon or that it will never happen. There's been an explosion in the number of media stories in recent months about research leading to the control of human aging, reflecting the release of some exciting new research findings. These stories are a sign that the life-extension revolution we've been calling for all these years is well underway.

Rival Also Set to Publish
New Journal Nears Debut


Rival Also Set to Publish
New Journal Nears Debut

By I. J. Wolf

Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine According to noted gerontologist Michael Fossel, the theory and application of the study of healthy longevity will be the centerpiece of the new anti-aging journal he will edit. The Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine is to be published by Mary Ann Liebert Inc., and is not to be confused with a rival Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine, also to debut soon; see accompanying story.

The new quarterly publication is intended to provide both a multidisciplinary forum for anti-aging science, and ultimately to make a difference in the exploration of the anti-aging frontier.

Fossel, professor of clinical medicine at Michigan State University, wants to provide a home for research and study that highlights fundamental systems that reverse and prevent aging, as well as to provide a platform for argument on a variety of anti-aging medical issues.

"We're not out to sell anybody's snake oil," notes Fossel. "We want to separate the truth from fiction, and present what really works in a down-to-earth way." Fossel's wants to establish a base of peer-reviewed science while remaining accessible and readable to wider audiences.

Fossel's own work on longevity has been focused on molecular biology and how the smallest genetic units affect life span. He deplores what he sees as a lack of studies based on good scientific method.

One of the regular features planned for the Fossel/Liebert journal will be a point-counterpoint section, in which leaders in the field will engage in discussion and debate.

Reviews of recent gerontological literature also will be regularly scheduled. The first issue will include a look at growth hormone in an article authored by Dr. Jason Wolfe, a professor at Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Conn. Wolfe cautions "that the evidenceshows that sustained elevation of growth hormone in the elderly produces adverse side effects...causing symptoms similar to diabetes, and also possibly increasing the probability of cancer."

Also among the first contributors is Dr. Aubrey de Grey, of Cambridge University, in England. De Grey, a specialist in the theory of oxidative stress as it impacts the aging process, says, "The field of gerontology has always been daunted by the immense biological complexity of human aging, and the consequent difficulty of developing medical technology that could retard it. This has led gerontologists to focus on making aging less painful, and to downplay that it will ever be greatly slowed.

"However, the time for such pessimism is drawing to a close. No one any longer denies that gene therapy will probably become routine within a few decades; the human genome will be fully sequenced much sooner than that. A growing number of well-respected professional biologists and clinicians believe that crucial research breakthroughs may be close at hand. The wider community is well-served by the existence of a high-quality, peer-reviewed journal that acts as a forum for dissemination of such work."

Other stories scheduled for the premier issue of the Fossel/Liebert journal include "Global Implications of Extending the Life Span," by John L. Petersen, "Diabetes and Hypertension as an Increasing Risk Factor for Cerebrovascular Aging in Japan," and "Implications of Recent Work in Cell Senescence," by Fossel.

Upcoming issues will feature "The Human Genome Project: Scientific Promise and Social Problems," "Molecular Analysis of Aging," "Slowing Aging by Calorie Restriction: Nutrition Intervention Studies in Non-Human Primates," and "Antioxidant Drugs in Inflammatory Diseases."

Dr. Bryant Villeponteau, vice president of research for Jouvence Pharmaceuticals Inc., in San Diego, Calif., serves on the Fossel/Liebert journal's peer-review editorial board. "The time for this kind of journal has come, and it's natural for us in the biotech arena to be involved. There's a lot of good scientific research in the area of anti-aging medicine and it needs a place in which to be presented."

Fossel views the time as ripe for spreading the word.

For a complimentary issue of the first issue of the Fossel/Liebert Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine, call 1-800-M-LIEBERT.


Journal Wars?
Stay Tuned

Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine The anti-aging journal to be produced by publishing company Mary Ann Liebert Inc., which plans to feature point-counterpoint debates as part of its editorial content, is involved in controversy even before its first issue. The American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M), the Chicago-based professional organization for anti-aging doctors, asserts that it owns the name Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine, and in fact is set to publish its own first issue under that title in April.

A4M is exploring legal recourse against the Liebert organization.

A4M's own Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine will be published by Total Health Communications Inc., of Salt Lake City. A4M president Dr. Ronald Klatz is troubled by the name conflict with the competing publication.

"It's problematic. We were there first," asserts Klatz. "Liebert represented our organization as a conference manager three years ago, but we didn't want to do the journal with her. We have a real problem with her [actions], when she had a fiduciary responsibility with us. We're hoping legal action won't be necessary. We own the name, this is our property."

Responds Liebert, "The name of [our] journal has been announced for ages. In the summer, when we applied for an international standard serial number from the Library of Congress, [the name] was not in use and had no pre-existing claim. We don't intend nor pretend any affiliation with A4M, and don't believe the name of the journal presents any conflict with other publications."

Klatz says that A4M's Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine ("Maybe we'll call it the 'Official' Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine," he says) will cover anti-aging science and where the technology is now, "applying it to improve the quality and quantity of the human life span."

"Our society is 80 percent practicing physicians," Klatz says, "because we're focused on educating physicians on technology that works today. Anti-aging medicine is long past the time when it was the stuff of science fiction."

Klatz says the A4M publication will include articles about anti-aging drug and nutritional therapies, and touch on issues of basic science, such as new research on the effects of the enzyme telomerase on retarding aging, and nanotechnologies. "We hope to cover the waterfront of the entire field of anti-aging medicine, with a clinical focus."

Lyle D. Hurd, publisher of A4M's journal, said the first issue's exact contents "are still pretty much proprietary. Some people are very protective of what they're doing; it's pretty new and cutting edge."

A4M's journal, also initially a quarterly, will be priced at $89 a year, $49 for A4M members. Klatz notes that an editorial advisory board is currently being assembled for the journal.