The Last Window of Opportunity for us Boomers.
I just noticed earlier this week that my hair - previously merely thinning - is now starting to turn noticably grey. Not a happy moment. For years I have watched as much younger guys turned, and felt a certain satisfaction that all the mega-supplements on which I've spent so many thousands of dollars were doing their job and protecting me. Another illusion falls.
One way or another, we boomers are going to be working a lot more into our promised retirement time than we anticipated, as the funds, and, more important, the capital resources are simply not there. So, one possible scenario - just let us all die. That would work, and once we're dead, who will be objecting? Just don't fund the medical research - especially on the geriatric end - and don't prepare for the next avian flu, etc., and we'll be gone soon enough.
Alternatively, if we actually crack the ageing problem itself, then we boomers can all go back into the work force with vim and vigor and all the smarts we've accumulated besides, and then how will the Y-genrs even keep up with us? No way, man.
So, the key to cracking ageing itself is likely contained in the genome. As we keep fixing pieces and finding ways to patch things when genes are weak, we will likely narrow down some key ageing secrets along the way. One thing I recall from the recent talk that I discussed in another recent post here, is that they found one particular protein was lacking in mice that got certain common cancers, so they simply upped that protien - I forget how - and, sure enough, the mice didn't get cancer, at all.
However, they did age about twice as fast as normal.
I have, since 1980, held that the Hayflick Limit is there to protect against cancer. That's the limit on the number of cell divisions that most adult tissues can go through. The mechanism appears to be largely a simple cap on the ends of the chromosomes called a telomere. Each time a cell divides, the cap gets a little shorter, until you start losing active genes and then the cell dies or can no longer divide.
Turns out, most cancers activate a gene that is normally dormant in the tissue type in question, that produces an enzyme called telomerase, because it prevents the telomere from shortening. If you block telomerase, most adult cancers simply die out or stop growing at minimum within a few more generations, when they use up their telomeres. If you ADD telomerase or trigger its production, then cells that would normally have hit the Hayflick Limit just keep on dividing normally... indefinitely.
So, the key here is to selectively turn on telomerase without simultaneously opening the door to cancer. It's likely that cracking this nut alone might give us youthful lifespans much longer than we have now.
Another problem is that the cells that perform most poorly take that as a signal to divide. Stupid, but true. Actually, it makes sense. If you're not able to do your job, and you know it, what do you do? You ask for help, right? So the cells that are defective - typically those with the really weak sets of mitochondria - out-reproduce the cells that are really super-cells until you end up with a buncha lazy, handicapped, welfare-roll cells - with short telomeres to boot. And shortly thereafter you die - at great expense and usually a lot of misery.
That's a toughy, as the mitochondria have their own DNA, separate from the nucleus. I don't even know if there ARE any viruses that invade mitochondria. Very possibly not, as it would be to most viruses advantage to leave the energy factory of the cell running while takeing over the nuclear DNA to happily churn out zillions of copies of sister viruses. You don't kill the host until you've taken every single thing you can get.
But, it might be possible to trigger the cells that have really good mitochondria into dividing more often, and convince the others not to. If you also managed to keep the telomeres long in the good cells, then I'd guess that you just eliminate 90% or more of ageing.
But let's do it soon, OK?