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T-Minus 10, 9...

Last year I speculated that a simple form of life extension therapy would be available within a decade. With less than nine years left to go, I stand by this prediction.

Aging is a very complicated problem. But age therapy is coming soon because the beginning of the answer to aging will be much simpler than a more complete solution that addresses all seven of Aubrey de Grey's age problems.

As Aubrey de Grey has repeatedly pointed out, we don't have to have a complete solution to benefit. In fact, we might live to see a complete solution to the age problem if we live to see the first true therapy for aging. This "bootstrapping" idea means that the time we gain from the first age therapies might help us live to benefit from second-generation therapies, second-generation therapies bootstrap us to the third generation, etc.

From last year's "Life Extension Soon" post:

Michael West's book, The Immortal Cell, gives me reason to hope for some form of life extension - something less than escape velocity - within the next ten years. Dr. West is a pioneer in the field of therapeutic cloning. His studies have shown that when the genetic material of an adult somatic cell is used in cloning, infant stem cell results. Our aging is reversed in the "time machine" of conception.

It's not difficult for Dr. West to imagine effective life extension therapies resulting from this and related technology:

…I am particularly intrigued about the possibilities of making young bone marrow stem cells. These cells normally reside inside our largest bones…and give rise to all of our blood cells. As we age, these cells progressively lose their telomeres and become dysfunctional. As a result, the elderly have greater difficulty mounting immune responses to the flu and other infections…

…young bone marrow stem cells made by therapeutic cloning would be indistinguishable from those that you and I had when we were born. And these cells are relatively easy to transfer back into the body of an older patient. They can be simply infused into the blood vessel in the arm, and they will migrate through the blood and eventually take up residence in the bone marrow to make young blood cells instead of the old ones. This single application of therapeutic cloning in geriatric medicine could improve the lives of millions. If so, it would be the first time in history that geriatric medicine applied scientific knowledge of the aging process in such a profound manner.

Dr. West also speculates that a similar process would allow us infuse the bones of elderly patients with endothelial precursor stem cells. These cells are involved in replacing the cell linings of blood vessels. Aging of these cells is thought to be a cause of coronary artery disease.

The impact of such an exciting new therapy [infusion of endothelial precursor stem cells] could extend beyond atherosclerosis to heart failure, geriatric skin ulcers, and many other manifestations of the aging process.

Yesterday, June 30, 2005, Wired reported that this idea has now been tried in cows, and the results are astonishing.

Stem cells were injected into elderly cows -- animals whose age was equivalent to an 80-year-old human. Tests showed boosted immune systems and rejuvenated blood vessels more than a year after an injection of a tablespoonful of stem cells taken from cloned bovine fetuses.

scientists who performed the study believe embryonic stem cells taken from days-old embryos in a petri dish, perhaps some leftover post-in-vitro fertilization, could impart the same benefits.

"The cells are so competitive and youthful that they just take over," said Robert Lanza, vice president of medical and scientific development at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Massachusetts.

It's not too surprising that Advanced Cell Technology would be working on this problem. It is Michael West's company.

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