Dr. Bill Andrews, PhD, interviewed on Stuff.co.nz by Lisa Tamati
As another year has just rolled over and I quickly approach the half century mark in my life, I have to admit to a growing desire to do everything I can to slow the clock down and to stop the dreaded decline of old age. For both myself and my ageing loved ones.
I am constantly on the look out for the latest in anti-ageing breakthroughs and technologies. It's something that preoccupies many of us in our quest to live long, healthy, strong lives. But what if I told you that scientists have now got the power to stop time or even to reverse the ageing process?
Would you think that is just science fiction. The fountain of youth doesn't exist, well listen up. Recently I had the privilege of having the world's leading scientist on anti-ageing, American Inventor of the year Dr Bill Andrews on my podcast "Pushing the Limits".
Dr Bill is credited with the discovery of the human telomerase gene. He is a molecular biologist and gerontologist who has spent his entire career trying to stop the ageing process by lengthening telomeres which will in effect stop the clock and give us many many more years of healthy life without the decline usually associated with ageing.
He is the founder of a bio tech company called Sierra Sciences and he and his team have tested more than 500,000 compounds in a search for a molecule that will turn on the telomerase gene and which will stop the shortening or even lengthen telomeres and he has found over 900 today.
So what are telomeres and why do they matter in regards to ageing?
In the 1940's scientists discovered telomeres, which are the caps at the end of the each strand of DNA and these "caps" protect our chromosomes, a bit like the plastic at the end of a shoelace. Without the plastic tips our shoes laces become frayed and can no longer do their job and the same happens with telomeres.
When we are born our telomeres are around 10,000 bases in length (a unit used to measure chromosomes) but each time a cell replicates itself (which they are doing constantly throughout life) the telomeres shorten, a little bit is lost of that plastic tip if you like.
When the telomeres reach 5000 bases in length the DNA of the cell starts to unravel and the cell is unable to reproduce itself and it dies. Short telomeres means a short life expectancy. However, our reproductive cells do not have this problem. They don't age because the telomerase gene is turned on in these cells. Hence a baby is born with full length telomeres even if the mother was 20, 30 or 40-years-old. The rest of the cells in the body however don't have this telomerase gene.
Dr Bill and his team now have more than 900 compounds that can turn this gene on to some degree and can stop or slow down the ageing process. Their first compound to market is known as TAM818 and this has been licensed by a company called Defytime Solutions.
The products currently on the market Dr Andrews says, are about one-sixth of the potency needed to actually make an 80-year-old back into a 20-year-old but they definitely slow the process of ageing down.
However, Dr Andrews now has compounds that are 30 fold stronger than what is required to reverse the ageing process and this has been licensed to Libella Gene therapeutics who are due to start clinical trials on humans in early 2018.
Currently the only fly in the ointment are the costs for this treatment which are astronomical. For one patient it costs around $5 million dollars so it's only for the super rich at this stage but if the trials are successful this will be the start of a very different future for the human race.
In previous studies done at Harvard university on animals they have been able to turn aged animals in to young animals again. All the signs and symptoms of ageing reversed and they are able in the lab to take old skin cells and turn them into baby skin cells and keep them alive indefinitely. They actually called these cells immortal. They don't die or deteriorate at all.
If you are interested to find out more on this exciting area of research listen to my podcast with Dr Bill Andrews "Pushing the Limits" at www.lisatamati.co.nz/podcast and visit his website www.sierrasciences.com.