According to former Wall Street Journal science and technology reporter Stipp, scientists are coming close to achieving the goal of using “the powerful new tools of molecular biology” to “shrink death’s dominion.”
Since the turn of the 20th century, the life expectancy of Americans has increased dramatically, thanks to major improvements in sanitation, decreased infant mortality and the introduction of antibiotics, but only now are gerontologists beginning to make significant headway on the causes of aging. In his intriguing debut, Stipp delves into the story that began in the 1930s with the discovery that a calorie-restricted diet increases life expectancy, and continues with the current effort to develop safe drugs that will mimic the effect of a CR diet. The author begins with his 2006 WSJ front-page story about how daily doses of resveratrol, found in red wine, not only protected rodents from the effects of a devastatingly rich diet, but apparently rejuvenated them. Add to this the fact that a genetic mutation causing dwarfism, which suppresses growth hormones, is also a life extender, and the basis for a new comprehensive theory is emerging. A group of genes that normally control the production of cell proteins can be switched to activate cell-repair mechanisms, causing them to absorb the “accumulation of harmful crud…thought to play a major role in aging.” Scientists have now established that the rate of aging in widely diverse organisms is not only amazingly plastic but controllable. The same CR mimetic drugs that are being developed to ward off the ravages of old age can also help counter the effects of obesity. To rival the advances of the 20th century in increased life-expectancy, Stipp estimates that the federal government will need to launch a federal program on par with the 1960s Apollo project. “Sadly,” he writes, “comparative gerontology…has long been one of biomedicine’s poor cousins. Indeed, it’s arguable that most of the lines of research covered in this book are lamentably underfunded.”
Though increased funding will be difficult to come by, Stipp makes a convincing argument for more widespread anti-aging research.