Battling Nature (Part 1): Genetic Possibilities
On the Genetic Frontier
Information Johnson is collecting from
research could potentially help increase the human lifespan. Johnson recently
set up a company, Denver-based GenoPlex, that will try to develop drugs to
interfere with the aging process on the genetic level.
"It's impossible to predict what can
happen," he said. But "there's no formal reason why we couldn't
manipulate genes... in humans using drug approaches that would disrupt genes in
the same way."
Manipulating genes may be the way to go,
agreed Helen Blau, professor and chairman of molecular pharmacology at Stanford
University School of Medicine. She and her team of researchers have been
developing genetically engineered muscle cells, which could stimulate the body
to produce blood vessels. Reinvigorated blood vessels could prevent the
development of heart disease and poor circulation, as well as delay the muscle
atrophy and the difficulties in wound healing that afflict older
So far, the genetically engineered cells have
been successful at stimulating blood-vessel growth in mice, Blau said. With
this success, she will begin clinical trials in the near future to see if the
cells can cause blood vessels to grow in people.
However, like most scientists, Blau insists
the anti-aging therapies aren't going to happen today. Instead, she said that
while scientists now know so much about the genetics of aging, actual genetic
therapies are a thing of the future.
"It's tremendously exciting," Blau
said. "But it's not ready for prime time yet."