test your knowledge
How the world got lost on
the road to an anti-aging pill
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May 13, 2010: by Bill Sardi
At a Royal Society conference this week in London, entitled “Turning Back the Clock,” pharmaceutical companies appeared to lay claim to the anti-aging pill market, saying such pills will begin human clinical study within two years or so. The conference drew worldwide headlines such as:
One news report said “Within a couple of generations living to be 100 could be as routine as collecting a bus pass is today. Some scientists go further and believe the first person to live to 150 may already have been born.”
The lead researcher being quoted in news article is Dr. Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, who serves as a scientific consultant to Oramed Pharmaceuticals, an Israeli-based drug company.
Also mentioned often is GlaxoSmithKline and its resveratrol-based Sirtuin-gene activating drugs (Sirtris Pharmaceuticals). Dr. Barzilai envisions a once-daily pill that would “stave off the effects of old age and would probably be taken when a person reached their forties or fifties.”
Another report published in the EMBO Reports (European Molecular Biology Organization) journal, written by investigators in Australia, is an impact statement that asks for answers to the question: “What would happen if such a pill were to become commonplace?”
Its authors use the advent of the birth control pill as a game-changing development for comparison. This is because estrogen replacement therapy was soon marketed as an “elixir of youth” to “forestall the diseases of ageing and to maintain youthfulness,” said the Australian research team at the School of Population Health, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.
Although physicians initially prescribed hormone replacement therapy (estrogen) to temporarily relieve the symptoms of the menopause, it quickly found widespread use to forestall the diseases of ageing and to maintain youthfulness, said the authors.
The Australian researchers noted that estrogen pills help to maintain the cosmetic appearance of youthfulness rather than promote longevity, and this is highly desired in any human population. Promoting a pill that would prolong life without looking younger may not be easily adopted by a generation that values youthful appearance. Just look at all the money spent to look younger (hair and skin treatments, contact lenses, cosmetic surgery, etc.).
Of course the oft-repeated concerns about over-population, cost and utility are brought to the fore in this impact report. The Australian team cites an earlier report which suggested that an anti-ageing pill would certainly increase population growth unless a pre-condition for its use were an agreement not to reproduce.
The impact report goes on to say that “Initial support for an anti-ageing pill will probably come from the supporters of life extension and those who stand to benefit from its manufacture and sale—such as pharmaceutical companies and medical professionals. There might also be an economic incentive for governments to support an anti-ageing pill if it enables people to remain healthier and work for longer, and so pay for their own care and retirement.”
The Australian team suggests doctors will control access to such a pill, that it will be dispensed by prescription and that it needs to be regulated. But the need to control such a pill is defied by the wide availability of red wine which has been shown to produce longevity at the 3-5 glasses-a-day consumption range.
These conventional-thinking doctors see dire consequences from any unregulated nutriceutical, or off-label-prescribed drug. But why would control of an anti-aging pill, beyond its safety and labeling, be needed?
It doesn’t sound like such a pill would be greeted with open arms. Possibly humans who lived generations ago could only dream of an elixir of youth, but today an anti-aging pill is likely to be a hard-sell. After 7 years of promoting red wine resveratrol pills in America, such a pill isn’t even in the top-selling herbal supplements.
The publication of the impact report prompted this author to write a letter which broadened the discussion. Here were my comments:
Having read your report entitled “Anticipating the anti-ageing pill,” I have a few questions and comments.
Would the authors of the paper take such a pill if it were available? It would be interesting to know.
An online survey of retirees showed that better than 9 in 10 would NOT take such a pill over fears of adding more years of living in a debilitated, senile state, and concerns over running out of retirement money, and overpopulation. The people who are closest to death’s door are the most unlikely to adopt the idea of an anti-aging pill. Those who are most likely to incorporate such a pill into their daily regimen are middle-aged males who see the ravages of aging in their parents and grandparents and don’t want to grow old.
Such a pill has been demonstrated to differentiate 633 genes in the same direction as a calorie restricted diet, which is the unequivocal intervention that prolongs life in all living organisms. A so-called anti-aging pill may be at hand at a cost of less than $1a day, far less than the cost of 3-5 glasses of red wine. – © 2010 Bill Sardi, Resveratrol News.com
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