INTERESTINGLY, while our contemporary world is a washed with such conspiracy theory adducing that COVID-19 has been purposely contrived to advance global depopulation, modern biological science seems to have likely forged the formula for enhancing longevity or rewinding the human age clock.
I must admit I’ve been fascinated no end by the 2008 American fantasy romantic drama film, “The Curious Case of (backward-aging) Benjamin Button”, based on the 1922 eponymous short story of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Curiously, indeed, would our highly sophisticated biological science now make it possible for us to reset our biological clock – say, if you’re 70 or 80 in age, you would biologically feel as only 30 or 40 years old?
Very likely. Dr. David Sinclair, professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School and author of New York Times’ bestseller, “Lifespan: Why We Age – and Why We Don’t Have To”, is apt to quip: “We are moving to a world where it will be quite normal for 80-year-olds to hike mountains with their grandkids and start new careers. Aging is a disease, and that disease is treatable.”
Sinclair introduces us into some provocative protocols for longevity: genetic or cellular reprogramming and simple lifestyle changes – such as physical exercise, calorie restriction, and fasting.
It has been shown that physical exercise and calorie restriction can enhance longevity by activating the “sirtuins” – a group of seven genes that appear to be very important in regulating the aging a process. Sirtuins are said to control a variety of protective processes – they protect the chromosomes, the stem cells from being lost, and the cells from senescing.
But what about for those who are not wont to undergo calorie restriction or physical exercise? Is there yet a chance for them to reverse the aging route? Sinclair says yes, stressing that there are emerging technologies that can mimic calorie restriction and exercise: cellular reprogramming and NAD (Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide) boosting.
Cellular reprogramming came to fore some 13 years ago when Shinya Yamanaka first told the world of the power of four specific genes that control embryonic development. When given to adult cells, these genes can push cells into youthfulness – back to a state of pluripotency – creating an endless supply of human-made stem cells.
What about NAD boosting? How does it work? Sinclair believes that a compound found in all living cells, Nicotinamide Adenine Dinucleotide or NAD, could be used to mimic the beneficial effects of calorie restriction and physical exercise.
As we age, our tiniest blood vessels wither and die, causing reduced blood flow and compromised oxygenation of organ and tissues. Vascular aging is responsible for a constellation of disorders, such as cardiac and neurological conditions, muscle loss, impaired wound healing, and overall frailty.
Scientists have known that loss of blood flow to organs and tissues lead to the build-up of toxins and low oxygen level. The so-called endothelial cells are essential for the health and growth of blood vessels that supply oxygen-rich and nutrient-loaded blood to organs and tissues. But as these endothelial cells age, blood vessels atrophy, new blood vessels fail to form and blood flow to most parts of the body gradually diminishes.
Now, it has been shown through experiments that reduced blood flow develops when endothelial cells start to lose a critical protein known as sirtuin-1 or SIRT1. The loss of SIRT1 is, in turn, precipitated by the loss of NAD+, a key regulator of protein interactions and DNA repair. Sinclair’s research has shown that NAD+ boosts the activity of SIRT1.
But how can declining NAD+ levels be boosted to be able to activate SIRT1? The answer is a chemical compound called NMN (Nicotinamide Mononucleotide), a NAD+ precursor which is said to play a role in repairing cellular DNA and maintaining cell vitality.
According to Sinclair, efforts are currently huddled towards developing small-molecule, NMN-based drugs that mimic the effects of physical exercise to effect enhanced blood flow and oxygenation of muscles and other tissues – and soon these NAD-boosting NMN drugs will be freely out in the market!
Vis-a-vis these startling scientific advances to effect longevity, I would still like to think that more than just stretching or lengthening our biological age, what is more important is ensuring that our lengthened years are also healthful years – that is, expanding not just our lifespan but our healthspan as well.
After all, what remains more exigent is not the number of years to our life, but the quality of life to our years.