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Book review of Jean Hebert’s “Replacing Aging,” part 1: Why gerontology is not the solution

Replacing aging

The title of Jean M. Hébert’s recently published book, Replacing Aging, fits the book nicely. Another title that would fit even better (but wouldn't sound so appealing) would be "Replacing Anti-aging Research." In the first part, Professor Hébert of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine essentially dismantles all major...

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  • Profile picture of Michael Pietroforte
  • Profile picture of Michael Pietroforte

    The title of Jean M. Hébert’s recently published book, Replacing Aging, fits the book nicely. Another title that would fit even better (but wouldn’t sound so appealing) would be “Replacing Anti-aging Research.” In the first part, Professor Hébert of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine essentially dismantles all major approaches to finding a cure for aging. According to Hébert, all drug-centric attempts (as he likes to call biochemical-based efforts) are prone to fail and need be replaced with a new approach, which he outlines in the second part of the book. In this first blog post, I will discuss his arguments against the gerontological approach, and in my next article, I will outline Hébert’s alternative.

  • Profile picture of Michael Pietroforte

    Peter Diamandis has pitched the new product of OneSkin Technologies, a company that claims to be able to reverse the biological age of your skin by clearing senescent cells. In this post, I summarize the science behind this new approach to skin anti-aging.

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  • Profile picture of Michael Pietroforte

    In my last post, I outlined David Sinclair’s anti-aging levels 1 and 2. Whereas levels 1 and 2 can, at best, slow the aging process, level 3 has the potential to provide a real cure for aging. At level 3, at least in theory, we can completely reverse the age of an entire organism by introducing the Yamanaka factors.

  • Nice! I know Aubrey but I have never read about his theory in detail, only very superficially. I agree that the Yamanaka factors seem to be the most promising ones. They are also the most exciting ones, the idea of reversing aging is just amazing! I’m not old, I’m 27, but even at my age I think the only possibility of having a very long lifespan is if there is some sort of rejuvenation therapy like this one. Otherwise, I believe it’s too late haha I’m looking forward to your post on the Yamanaka factors.

  • Profile picture of Michael Pietroforte

    I think what he says about stress is consistent. Stress causes damage which causes aging. Moderate stress makes cells hunker down and focus on repairing damage. Thus, moderate stress slows aging, too much stress accelerates aging. Where I can’t follow is his claim that energy costs prevent cells from repairing damage.

    Of course I know Aubrey de Grey. I guess everyone who is interested in the biology of aging does. I have even more problems with his theory that damage caused by metabolism (in particular in the mitochondria) is the main cause of aging which is the old view that more and more gerontologists seem to abandon now. I feel that Sinclair is with his focus on the epigenome more on the pulse of cutting edge anti aging research.

    I don’t think that Sinclair’s research is less practical. In my next post I will blog about his attempt of using some of the Yamanaka factors to reset the clock of aging which is currently the most promising approach in this field.

  • Yeah, I’m reading the book and I didn’t understand his argument in the beginning. This is why I looked for an explanation and found your website. It seems a little contradictory indeed because it is not the damage itself that causes aging but the lack of sirtuins in the epigenome. So I found it really weird when he said that putting more stress in the body would have the effect of increasing aging. It seemed counterintuitive, but so many things in science are. After I finish the book and review his theory I will be able to make a better judgment of his theory, I guess. What do you think about Aubrey de Grey? Do you know him? His causes of aging are different from the hallmark causes that Sinclair says that the scientific community agrees on. de Grey has a more practical approach, focused on solving the problem of aging with biotech, whereas Sinclair (and I suspect the rest of the field) is more into biochemistry.

  • Profile picture of Michael Pietroforte

    I don’t understand where you see a contradiction in my argument. It goes like this:

    1. If Sir2 doesn’t find its way back, the cell can no longer replicate.
    2. Building an extra Sir2 that replaces the missing one would allow the cell to replicate again.
    3. But Sinclair claims that building an extra Sir2 would cost too much energy which is why we don’t see yeast cells with this ability in nature.

    My question is if Neo-Darwinism is correct and evolution is all about replication, how can it be too expensive to create just one extra protein if this this keeps the so important replication process going?

    You are right, the fact nobody did the math does not make Sinclair’s claim wrong. However, because this theory seems so implausible, I wish someone tested this claim empirically. All you have to do is engineer yeast cells that build more Sir2 and see if those cells replicate more efficiently than normal yeast cells. Provided that both cell colonies receive the same amount food, if the engineered cells replicate faster, claim 3 would be falsified and Sinclair’s theory would be in trouble.

  • Profile picture of Michael Pietroforte

    There are only a couple of scientists doing research with sirtuins in yeast and I doubt that they have interest in disproving Sinclair’s claim about the energy costs.

    The argument about the conditions in primordial times is not valid because if building more Sir2 would bring and evolutionary advantage, yeast would have adapted since then.

    The main reason why I find this very common claim about the additional cost for repairing damage implausible is that there are always times when plenty of food is available and organisms could use this additional energy to repair all the accumulated damage thereby reversing their age. That more available food makes most animals age faster, is one of the many empirical facts that make wear-and-tear theories of aging implausible.

    Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of Sinclair’s work. I think he is a brilliant experimentalist. Sometimes I just have problems following his more theoretical conclusions.

  • Yes, I agree with you. There should be experiments to test if the energy cost is the same or if it is higher. If it is the same, then the theory is in trouble. If it is a little higher then I believe the theory still stands, considering that primordial earth wasnt a place full of resources (according to him).

    But I believe there is more to it. I’m not a biologist or biochemist, so I dont know how to devise an experiment to disprove his ideas. But I guess somebody would have done it by now if it was that simple.

    Anyway, I still think his theory deserves a lot of credit because it has produced empirical results in some life forms. He had an idea and this idea generated many experiments whose predictions were confirmed. I see that as a big win so far. As for possible shortcomings, there are certainly a few, there is always. Still I think his research is very promising.

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