Humanity has long been obsessed with delaying or stopping the inevitability of death.
You can find tons of examples: the morbid stories of Dracula and Elizabeth Bathory, the Picture of Dorian Gray, or the Philosopher’s Stone. Our history is full of people trying to find the secret to beauty and immortality.
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Fiction Roots Lead to Anti-aging Hopes
While the fear of aging spawned many hilarious movies such as Death Becomes Her, the fear is something we all have. It is almost innate; no one wants to watch themselves wither, right? You can find creams, serums, and oils all claiming to have “anti-aging” effects, but nothing can stop the march of time . . . until now.
A team of researchers in Houston led by Dr. John Cooke may have scratched the surface into deciphering eternal youth. You might think it has to do with stem cells, but you’d be incorrect. Cooke’s team took cells from children with Progeria–a disease which causes them to age very rapidly. The key thing Cooke’s research team noticed was the shortened telomeres in the research subjects. Telomeres are the caps on the ends of your chromosomes that have a corresponding relationship of length to aging. In theory, if you can lengthen your telomeres, could you lengthen your youth? This is what Cooke’s team hopes to discern over the course of their research.
Reasonable Doubt From Research Peers
While there is research to support this theory, others have discredited the idea, calling it “snake oil”. Dr. Peter Lansdorp of the University of British Columbia said that telomeres shorten naturally to act as a “tumor suppression mechanism”. This could mean that, if we wanted to slow or stop aging, we might become more vulnerable to cancer. Despite these concerns, Cooke remains hopeful that his research will lead to improvements for patients with Progeria chiefly. The Department Chair of Cardiovascular Sciences at Houston Methodist Research Institute hopes to deliver the new cells using nanoparticles eventually.
A Morally Gray Area
The research is still in its infancy, but the anti-aging market is valued in the billions. Most people just buy fancy skin care items rather than bathe in the blood of virgins. Still, there is little poetry to compare to the story of Dorian Gray–a man who has eternal youth since a portrait of himself ages instead. Spoiler alert: Gray eventually attacks the portrait and ends up dead due to his own hubris. Fiction tangles with the questions humanity often cannot answer. Whether or not we should live forever is one such conundrum.