Fountain of Youth

Jun 28, 2018

In 1900, the average life expectancy was 49 years. Today, the average U.S. adult can expect to live until 79, an increase of 30 years. More than half a 1900 lifetime has been added to our living days. The Fountain of Youth spreading a forever-young attitude. An attitude that’s inspiring a host of trends.

From extropians, a group that believes that science and technology will help them carry on life much longer than most could imagine today, to practitioners in “anti-aging,” a host of therapies and procedures loom on the horizon that will help people cope with living longer.

Extropians spend $200,000, or more, to have their bodies cryopreserved in the hopes that one day they may be revived by some future, state-of-the-art intervention.

Thousands of anti-aging specialists attend events organized by A4M, which stands for the American Academy for Anti-Aging Medicine, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based professional organization that bills itself as a “global medical education provider.”

Organizations, such as the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS) do not officially recognize the A4M. But their skepticism may eventually be proven wrong.

There is growing evidence that life can be prolonged, at least in part. The La Jolla-based Salk Institute has reversed aging in mice by reprogramming their genome, rejuvenating organs and lengthening their lifespans by as much as 30%.

The race to find the first elixir has many, such as Google parent Alphabet with its Calico Labs, and Larry Ellison’s with his support of the Lawrence Ellison Foundation, excited.

In 2019, the global anti-aging market is predicted to reach $192 billion, according to Transparency Market Research.

One of the most promising areas is Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). In the past decade, there has been a notable increase in the use of hormone replacement therapies, including the administration of synthetic human growth hormone or HGH, which was originally developed to help children grow.


Caloric Restriction

Some years ago, two Cambridge, Mass.-based biotech start-ups, Sirtris Pharmaceuticals and Elixir Pharmaceuticals, created quite a bit of buzz for their research on drugs that mimic the beneficial aspects of reduced caloric intake. Their research discovered that reducing the caloric intake of a mouse is by 30%, would make it live at least 30% longer than its normal two-year lifespan.

A stressed body produces protective substances that extend life. Just four years after being founded, Sirtris was acquired by GlaxoSmithKline for $720 million in April 2008.  Elixir Pharmaceuticals, which received $58 million from nine investors, quietly disappeared some time ago. In 2013, GlaxoSmithKline unceremoniously shut down Sirtris, five years after its acquisition.



Resveratrol piqued the interest of scientists due to its antioxidant properties, which could contribute to longevity because of anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer attributes. Found in many plant varieties, resveratrol is abundant in the skin of red grapes, peanuts and pistachios, and in such fruit as blueberries, cranberries, mulberries and raspberries, and cacao beans. Its abundance in red grape skins gives red wine its notable concentrations of resveratrol, a fact not lost on mass media, which helped propel its talking-head popularity.

While the jury is out on whether resveratrol can help prolong human life, there’s no question that resveratrol mimics the lifespan-extending effects of very-low-calorie diets in flies, fish and mice — apparently by activating SIRT-1, one of seven Sir2-like genes in humans that play a crucial role in anti-aging.



Other approaches to age management are also beginning to show promise. In 1972, Suren Sehgal, then a scientist at Ayerst Laboratories in Montreal, identified a rare bacterium found in Easter Island soil, Streptomyces Hygroscopicus, that possessed potent anti-fungal properties. He named it rapamycin, inspired by Easter Island’s native name, Rapa Nui.

Sehgal eventually convinced Wyeth, which had acquired Ayerst in 1987, to let him continue his rapamycin research. He discovered that rapamycin not only had great antifungal qualities but was able to suppress the immune system, blocking the body from rejecting a new kidney or another vital organ. That ability lead the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to approve rapamycin for transplant patients in 1999.

Further research uncovered rapamycin capabilities that extend far beyond immune system suppression. The National Institutes of Health sponsored a major study in 2009 that confirmed that rapamycin and its derivatives helped mice live longer. The study discovered that rapamycin not only extends life by delaying the onset of such old age diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer and heart disease but also postpones the normal effects of aging.


Stem Cell Therapy

In the eternal quest to find solutions that slow, prevent or reverse the aging process, the scientific community often goes where no one has gone before. The latest leading-edge discoveries touch on the vast world of stem cells, which is not surprising given that stem cell research specializes in finding drugs and techniques that can help restore what nature took away.

The term “stem cell” was proposed in 1908 by Russian histologist Alexander Maksimov for scientific usage. However, the first remarkable breakthrough came in 1997, first stem-cell cloning of a sheep. The lamb, called Dolly, was the first mammal cloned from an adult cell, using a process called somatic cell nuclear transfer.

This process involves transferring a cell nucleus from an adult cell to an unfertilized, developing egg cell that had its nucleus removed. Ian Wilmut, Keith Campbell and colleagues cloned Dolly at Roslin Institute, part of the University of Edinburgh, Scotland.

In a little more than two decades, the field of stem cell research had made quantum leaps, electrifying the global scientific community. They are especially excited by iPS cells.

iPS stands for induced pluripotent stem cells. When President George W. Bush issued an executive order banning federal funding for new sources of stem cells developed from preimplantation human embryos in 2001, his short-sighted action froze U.S. stem cell research and discouraged scientists.

In 2006 a Kyoto University scientist, Shinya Yamanaka, and a graduate student, Kazutoshi Takahashi, revived the field by creating a way to induce an adult cell, such as a skin cell, to revert to its earliest “pluripotent” stage — an iPS cell.

In the pluripotent stage, a cell can generate all cell types that make up the human body.  Embryonic stem cells are considered pluripotent. These cells can become any cell, from a heart muscle cell to a neuron. The process of maturing stem cells from a pluripotent state to an adult tissue type is called differentiation.


Body Contouring

Many Fountain of Youth techniques focus on reinventing the human body, many others are busy at work trying to reshape it. Imagine for a moment that you could leave work for lunch, undergo a simple procedure and return to your desk having shed an inch from your waist. You may consider that a wild fantasy but technology to instantly shape the body has already arrived.

Body shaping describes a new wave of innovative contouring technologies that require little or no downtime and are minimally invasive. Research firm Medical Insight, based in Aliso Viejo, Calif., reports that in 2016 practitioners earned fees of more than $7.4 billion (PDF) based on “more than 97,000 energy-based aesthetic treatment systems” installed worldwide.

A June 2018 study by the American Society of Plastic Surgery (ASPS) found that 90% of 17.5 million cosmetic procedures were minimally invasive (PDF), underscoring the impact these innovative procedures have had on the Fountain of Youth.


Plastic Surgery

For more dramatic results, nothing comes close to plastic surgery of course. The ASPS reports that 1.8 million cosmetic surgical procedures were performed in 2017. The top five procedures are:

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The ASPS estimates Americans spent more than $16 billion on cosmetic plastic surgery, which includes both minimally invasive procedures described earlier and cosmetic surgical procedures in 2016.

The above summary is a condensed excerpt from Michael Tchong’s upcoming book, “Ubertrends — How Trends and Innovation Are Transforming Our Future.”