Voices in the Anti-Aging World

Many of the most talented and influential people in the world are addressing the vexing problem of aging and the work continues. Here is a list of just a few of the voices and their ideas that are out there.

Leonard Hayflick

Leonard Hayflick is a Grand Old Man of aging research and is best known for being the person for whom the Hayflick Limit is named. How that discovery came about is both entertaining and illuminating. There was a French researcher named Alexis Carrel who, in 1912, put some cells from a chicken heart in a solution and ‘fed’ the cells for the next 30+ years. These cells were said to be ‘immortal cells’ until they were eventually destroyed in 1946, said to have lived, outside of a chicken, for 34 years. Hayflick and his research partner Paul Morehead, were skeptical of this claim since no one had been able to replicate this famous experiment. They were also tipped by one of Carrel’s assistants that when the lab assistants ‘fed’ these cells, they were actually introducing new cells, and that pointing this out was grounds for dismissal from Carrel’s lab. Hayflick and Morehead not only were able to destroy the myth of the immortal cells by revealing Carrel’s shoddy work, but they also discovered that cells have divisional limits. Carrel had been trying to prove that aging occurred outside the cells since the cells would live forever outside the body but he had it exactly wrong; cells have limits that are enforced by a structure called a telomere, and that limits replication to about 50 divisions before the cells dies. Hayflick’s story didn’t end there, but it is the limit to cell replication that Hayflick gave aging research and his willingness to challenge conventional thinking has benefited all.

Dave Asbury

Dave Asbury is a bio-hacker, maybe the first to use the term as applied to a hobby or occupation and certainly one of the leading voices in the bio-hacker movement. He has dedicated his life to using all the tools available to make adjustments to his body so that he may live to be very old (180 is his stated goal). He sells products from his website and other online retail locations under his “Bulletproof” brand and he’s written a few books, but it is his podcast that is particularly interesting. Asbury has had on many fascinating guest and he’s been doing a podcast for a long time so his library of interviews is a big one. Dave talks a lot about mitochondrial health and so it’s fair to say that he thinks aging is a cellular process that works its way up. He is highly critical of standard medicine and has pointed out the incredible lack of weight that private medicine puts on individual experience with one’s own body. He has pointed out that “evidence-based medicine” is not much more than a marketing slogan because it is promoted by the very people who get to define what evidence is. What Dave does would not be considered evidence of anything, but if he gets a result in his own body using the tools he finds or invents, then that should constitute evidence of something. He’s interesting and his guest list very often has wonderful insights on health, aging, and what it all means. Asbury is about as different from Hayflick as one could imagine, but he is also pushing boundaries and exploring ideas worth exploring.

David Sinclair

David Sinclair is an Australian biological researcher and professor at Harvard University. His book Lifespan chronicles the results of his years of research and like other researches, he locates aging in the cells and cellular repair as the key to longer lives. Sinclair notes a critical fascinating thing about human cells: every cell has the full DNA code for the individual person inside it’s nucleus, but a liver cell, for example, only has the genes needed to be a liver cell turned on and the rest of the genome is turned off. The epigenome is the part of the cell that turns on and off the various parts of the full DNA strand and this is where the damage from living asserts itself. Damage causes the genes coded for other processes to turn on and eventually, the cell ceases to function normally. The repair pathway works well for a time, but then it starts to go wrong and misguided cells with damaged epigenome is aging in action. Correcting those functions addresses aging and Sinclair is working on various ways, show and fast, to make this happen.

Aubrey de Grey

Aubrey de Grey is an eccentric Englishman with a long Rip Van Winkle beard. Mr. de Gray is firmly in the camp that believes that aging is a cellular phenomenon and damage is a result of metabolism. Metabolism, he asserts, produces damage that becomes a pathology of one kind or another which leads to death. Further, he has provided a list of these pathological processes which are; cell loss or atrophy, death-resistance cells (loss of cell autophagy), nuclear mutations, mtDNA mutation, protein crosslinks, junk inside cells, junk outside cell. Each of these things can be addressed separately or in groups.  Like David Sinclair, he claims that if you address these pathways that cease to be able to address themselves, than humans could live much, much longer and further, he has also said, as has Sinclair, that it was nature that set the rules for how long we could repair with no help. nature wants humans to live about 40 years, and then we’re on our own. Nature did not endow us with a 200 year old body because that was just too hard to do so we have our limit set to about 40 without help and then if we’re very lucky, 120. BUT, if we can fix what breaks, we can go on for much longer.

Arthur De Vany

Arthur De Vany is a fascinating man who has had an eclectic and prolific life. He has a PhD and was involved in using data to make predictions in the movie industry. When his son was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, he noted how poor the treatments were and so he took a deep dive in to nutrition and developed some key insights. De Vany is credited for is pioneering the idea of the Paleolithic diets and lifestyles. His core insight is very simple and easy to understand; he contends that modern lifestyles are simply incompatible with our genetic structure which developed in the Paleolithic era and subsequently, to maximize health, we need to replicate components of that era when it came to diet and exercise. His orientation towards ketogenic diets and CrossFit type exercise was early and ground breaking and so while he is not a researcher like Hayflick, he is a pioneer in concepts that are considered to be both received wisdom and pioneering. Very few would argue against limited blood sugar spikes and high intensity bursts of activity. Further, he’s in incredible condition for his age and in that sense, he’s also a boundary pusher.

Cynthia Kenyon

Cynthia Kenyon is a researcher at the University of San Francisco who has studied aging in a small worm called “C elegans.” Her TED talk liked below was one of the first I saw on the subject of aging and it was so engaging it really set me off on my path to know and understand aging much better. She speaks about the genetic markers she has noted in her worm subjects and experiments and she has learned, by manipulating these genes, to regulate up or down the work lifespan. She has asserted that there is a control mechanism for aging and it is genetic. She claims that these control mechanisms must have been a part of evolution and while they may work a little differently in every animal, they are there in EVERY animal somewhere. There are aging pathways in humans, linked to our genes, and they are subject to alternation and manipulation.

Ray Kurzweil

Ray Kurzweil studied at MIT and graduated in 1970, and he has been at the cutting edge of computer science for decades. Like so many others, he is not a doctor or medical researcher, but he is a technologist with a passionate interest in the realm of aging and life extension. His training is in information technology and computing, but after pioneering many products, including a synthesizer that carries his name. He is known for promoting something called ‘The Singularity’ which is the idea that computing technology and machine intelligence is accelerating at such a rapid pace that it will eventually overtake human intelligence and become the dominate factor on earth. These technologies will combine with genetics, nanotechnologies, and many other health technologies to radically extend human life. He could be described as a futurist and his predictions are wildly enthusiastic about the future of aging.

Elizabeth Blackburn

Elizabeth Blackburn has been a tremendous beneficiary of the work done by Leonard Hayflick. She and Carol Greider and Jack Szostaks won a Nobel Prize in 2009 for breakthrough work furthering the understanding of telomeres and the enzyme telomerase. The importance of telomerase has led to continued research at the University of California San Francisco, where she studies the effect of telomeres and telomerase activity on cellular aging.

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