The fountain of youth 0



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It is probably just in the nick of time for me that US researchers have moved a significant step closer to achieving eternal life.

A team at the Mayo Clinic have extended the lifespan of mice by more than one-third by ridding their bodies of “senescent” cells.

According to head researcher, Professor Jan van Deursen, “Senescent cells (not only) shorten your life, but also the healthy phases of your life. Drugs that can eliminate (them) would be useful for therapies against age-related disabilities or diseases.”

It seems that “senescence” is a natural defence mechanism against tumours as it thrusts cells into a state of arrested development, preventing them from multiplying out of control. While the immune system regularly clears the body of these cells, the clean-outs gradually become less thorough leading to an accumulation of dysfunctional cells linked with inflammation, diabetes, kidney disease and cancer.

Professor van Deursen said “senescence” was like an emergency brake to stop damaged cells from dividing. This supported the theory that once the brake had been activated, the cells were no longer needed,

The lucky mice, when middle-aged, were injected with something the boffins have called AP20187 – obviously if this is ever flogged over the counter, some marketing guru will have to devise a snappier, more appealing title like “Eternal life” – and their lifespans increased by between 17% and 35%.

The bonus was an easing of age-related changes such as kidney and heart deterioration, development of cataracts and loss of fat as well as delaying the formation of tumours.

While this is encouraging, it somehow lacks the romanticism of the fountain of youth. Frankly, I would rather bathe in the waters of this fabled fountain and emerge as I was circa 1967 rather than getting injected with some drug which might allow me another few years before I fall off the twig but, let’s face it, beggars can’t be choosers.

It was the Greek historian Herodotus in the 5th century BC who first mentioned this fountain. Alexander the Great who conquered all of the known world in the third century BC hunted high and low for it but, given he died when he was 32, he didn’t find it.

The legend of the fountain was revived when the Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon went in 1513 to what he called “La Florida” (“flowery land” in Spanish) allegedly looking for the fountain of youth which was supposedly there. It turns out that he wasn’t but that hasn’t stopped generations of geriatric Americans retiring there, perhaps to do rather better than good old Juan.

And, as you would expect in the USA, there is even a Fountain of Youth theme park in the Florida city of St Augustine at the place Juan is said to have landed. The city’s water today, despite being diluted with “treated” water – meaning refined sewage – is said by adherents to contain water from the mythical fountain. They point to the fact that it has one of the highest elderly populations and lowest mortality rates in America.

Now, doesn’t that make you think?

Rich Americans believe that money can buy you anything which is why, in their quest to be forever young, spend vast amounts on plastic surgery and other fads. I am particularly impressed by an outfit called the “American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine” which held its last conference in December last year at the appallingly ugly Venetian/Palazzo gambling den in Las Vegas.

Their website claims that there were 5,200 attendees, 325 exhibiting companies and 100 speakers. Not for the faint-hearted, I think. Just trying to get around all the exhibits and listen to all of the speakers would be, at least for me, life-threatening. Now, that is awfully counter-productive.

I just love their proud – even courageous – boast: “Join the Anti-Aging Movement, Aging is not inevitable. Together we can END AGING in our own lifetime.”

Exhibitors and guest speakers at their conferences come from all sorts of “alternative therapy” practitioners and promoters ranging from those believing in stem cell therapy to fans of botox and meditation.

It costs $US324 a year for individuals and $US1,000 a year for companies to become members and there is a dazzling array of benefits although I did notice that funeral insurance wasn’t one of them.

My favourite part of their website is the shop. Now here is where the anti-ageing crowd really hit their straps. There is a lovely array of laminated plaques you can purchase – all seem to be $US179 – and they look very impressive, written in Old English script, with assorted logos and signatures of frightfully senior people. Perhaps oddly, they are all dated 21 November, 2011. Perhaps I am being picky.

All you have to do – after coming good with the $US179 – is personalise them by inserting your own name. One, for example, reads, “Board Certified Physician. American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine upon the recommendation of the Executive Board and after completion of all written and oral examinations as well as favourable review of this applicant’s credentials, we confer on (fill in your name)…blah blah blah.”

Are you surprised that the Mayo Clinic doesn’t provide speakers or exhibit at their conferences?

Share your thoughts below.

Russell Grenning

Russell Grenning is a Brisbane-based former journalist and retired political adviser who began his career with the ABC in 1968 in Brisbane and subsequently worked on the Brisbane afternoon daily, "The Telegraph" and later as a columnist for "The Courier Mail" and "The Australian". He worked for a string of senior Ministers in the Federal, Victorian and Queensland Governments as well as in senior executive public relations positions, including Assistant Federal Director, Public Relations, for Australia Post, Public Relations Manager for the Queensland Department of Main Roads and Principal Adviser, Corporate Relations, for the Queensland Law Society.

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