Since time immemorial, man has searched for the Fountain of Youth. Nothing has changed in that regard, but the methods of inquiry and discovery have certainly progressed.Some of these ideas rival even the most outlandish sci-fi scenarios imaginable, up to and including the transfer of your consciousness into a bionic body.1Personally, I don’t want to veer too far from the natural order of things.But the technology and science enthusiast in me can’t help but be intrigued by the ideas and radical advances in the field of extreme life extension. One of the most promising techniques in this field, from my perspective, revolves around the use of adult stem cells.Adult stem cells are undifferentiated cells found throughout your body. They multiply and replace cells as needed, in order to regenerate damaged tissues. Their value, in terms of anti-aging and life extension, centers around their ability to self-renew indefinitely, and their ability to generate every type of cell needed for the organ from which it originates.Dr. Bryant Villeponteau, author of Decoding Longevity, is a leading researcher in novel anti-aging therapies involving stem cells. He’s been a pioneer in this area for over three decades.Personally, I believe that stem cell technology could have a dramatic influence on our ability to live longer and replace some of our failing parts, which is the inevitable result of the aging process. With an interest in aging and longevity, Dr. Villeponteau started out by studying developmental biology.“If we could understand development, we could understand aging,” he says.Later, his interest turned more toward the gene regulation aspects. While working as a professor at the University of Michigan at the Institute of Gerontology, he received, and accepted, a job offer from Geron Corporation—a Bay Area startup, in the early ‘90s.“They were working on telomerase, which I was pretty excited about at the time. I joined them when they first started,” he says. “We had an all-out engagement there to clone human telomerase. It had been cloned in other animals but not in humans or mammals.”
What is Telomerase?
Your body is made up of 10 trillion cells, each of which contains a nucleus. Inside the nucleus are the chromosomes that contain your genes. The chromosome is made up of two “arms,” and each arm contains a single molecule DNA, which is essentially a string of beads made up of units called bases.A typical DNA molecule is about 100 million bases long. It’s curled up like slinky, extending from one end of the chromosome to the other. At the very tip of each arm of the chromosome is what’s called a telomere.If you were to unravel the tip of the chromosome, a telomere is about 15,000 bases long at the moment of conception in the womb. Immediately after conception your cells begin to divide, and your telomeres begin to shorten each time the cell divides. Once your telomeres have been reduced to about 5,000 bases, you essentially die of old age.Telomerase is an enzyme that is involved in repairing the ends of the chromosomes, i.e. the telomere, thereby preventing it from shortening.