"Reversing Human Aging" by M. Fossel

Oliver Bogler obogler at ucsd.edu
Fri Jun 14 16:49:52 EST 1996

I wanted to add some more to the interesting questions that you raise in 
response to the book by Fossel. 
The link between telomere shortening and organismal ageing, which forms 
the basis of the book, and the proposed anti-ageing therapies is 
unfortunately fragile at present. As such the book represents an 
extremely premature popularisation of frontier science. In my opinion 
such books, and the associated news coverage, are detrimental to medical 
research as they foster unrealistic expectations among the general 
public, expectations whose repeated dashing feeds back negatively on 
science, and science funding. In my opinion this is an irresponsible 

First, let's take the underlying theory. As pointed out by another 
respondent, telomere shortening has been shown to *correlate* with 
*cellular* ageing. That means that it has not been shown to be causative 
in the process of cellular senescence. It is clear that cells need to 
maintain their chromosomes to be immortal. However, it remains 
distinctly possible that other events make them immortal, and that they 
switch on telomerase as a consequence of these other events. Of course, 
the link between cellular senescence and organismal ageing is itself far 
from clear. As you pointed out, some cells, such as neurons, are 
non-dividing from early childhood until death, yet can function 
adequately without telomerase.
Second, the therapies suggested are even more facile. If, as the book 
demands, telomerase is really the master controller of cellular ageing, 
and by inference critical in cellular transformation, then simply making 
more of it all the cells of the human body is likely to have negative 
consequences! Of course, of telomerase is irrelevant, then so are the 

My personal opinion is that this hypothesis is an illustration of the 
old axiom that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. It reminds me of 
the anecdote popular in my field, of a now-Nobel laureate, who upon the 
discovery of viral oncogenes (20 years ago), remarked to a colleague 
something like: "now that we have the genes we'll have cancer wrapped up 
in no time."

As the therapist of the anti-ageing clinic of the future might ask: 
"Perhaps you'd like a little melatonin with your telomere therapy, sir? 
And while you wait for it to take effect, perhaps you'd care to browse 
through this catalogue of famous bridges we have on special offer this 

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