Life Extension Odyssey

Book Review: Ageless Quest, by antiaging gene researcher Lenny Guarente

Life Extension Odyssey
 By Will Block

re you ready for the “age-mitigating pharmaceutical market”? Well, here it comes, like it or not. Why would anyone not be for age mitigation—which is one of the new terms for life extension—as conducted by the pharmaceutical industry? Well, for openers, drug companies have been partial to making a lot of money regardless of whether it does a lot of good in the long run (they might as well have subscribed to the position of Lord Keynes: “In the long run, we’re all dead!”), provided they can patent some new molecules and own the territory.

Now, this is not to say that the drug industry is opposed to keeping people alive. After all, hypothetically, they can continue to sell the “forever” pill again and again to the same people, while forever expanding the market.

But longevity is not exactly a mass market—not yet—although it certainly could be (and should be, as we believe). So the prospects of a pharmaceutical antiaging market, while quixotic by their own standards, are encouraging if it adds to the quest for longer life. One of the big problems is that drugs are for disease, as the litany goes, and not for health. Therefore, aging must be made into a disease for regulatory (FDA) approval to take place.

But if growing older is a disease, then everyone is diseased, and the FDA, whose very existence is premised upon disease, either gains a lot more power or loses it. For those of us who believe in a free market, with its inherent wisdom in responding to what people really want, and making it more available, sooner, at a lower price, age mitigation by any name is a good thing. Clearly, what people want is a higher quality of life, and more of it. We don’t want “planned obsolescence” when it comes to our own lives.

Heralding the new age of life extension drugs is an extraordinary new book called Ageless Quest, written by MIT molecular biologist Lenny Guarente, who is no stranger to readers of this publication.* In this personal odyssey,

Guarente relates his pursuit of a genetic “cure” for aging, in the heart of the East Coast scientific and biomedical academia, at MIT and Harvard, both of which are very encouraging to patents, licensing, and start-up biotechnology corporations.

Detailing Guarente’s trials and errors in his investigations toward a new aging theory, Ageless Quest is a biomedical detective story, but it is more than that. It is a foray into the world of academia, laboratories, and venture capital insemination.

But the star of the book is the gene Sir2 (no less than 11 articles have been published about Sir2 in this magazine), which Guarente has found to slow aging substantially in yeasts and some lower animals. And because the gene pool likes to conserve function—indeed, a billion years passed between the appearance of this gene in yeasts and its appearance in flatworms—Guarente’s hypothesis is that SirT1 (the human equivalent) may very well do the same for humans: extend maximum lifespan.

Along the road of his quest, the author stops long enough (Chapter 9) to discuss “Theories of Aging.” While much of the book is exciting (but not always an easy read), this philosophical chapter is some of the best material I’ve ever read on the subject. Many people bandy about the term “Holy Grail” with regard to this discovery or that, but “Theories of Aging” gave me the experience of the Grail, raising the hair on the back of my neck. Bravo!

To round out the quest, Guarente, along with C. elegans (flatworm) researcher Cynthia Kenyon, of the University of California, San Francisco, announces the creation of a biotechnology firm to exploit the targeting of the Sir2 gene for age-mitigation drugs (Chapter 13). Needless to say, great things are expected from this undertaking.

Although Guarente does take moderate amounts of dietary supplements, he is not very sanguine about what they can do in the long run. But that’s understandable, given his chosen quest and the improbability that any venture capitalist would pour money into something that can’t be patented.

When can we expect to see some progress? According to the author, “the first products rationally developed to slow aging will appear in the next 10–20 years.” We say, as others have encouraged Guarente upon finding out what he does, “Work fast.”

Ageless Quest is available from Life Enhancement Products (see order form).


*In the scientific literature, he goes by the more dignified name Leonard Guarente. In this book, though, he’s Lenny.

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