Searching for the Fountain of Youth: Folly or Foot in the Door?

Despite ridicule and derision from their peers, many legitimate biomedical scientists have pursued drugs, treatments, and interventions to restore youth, extend life, or both.

Despite ridicule and derision from their peers, many legitimate biomedical scientists have pursued drugs, treatments, and interventions to restore youth, extend life, or both.

Although many healthcare clinicians consider these efforts to be purely academic curiosity and expect no tangible outcome or implications for clinical practice, Illia Stambler, PhD, a leading member of International Longevity Alliance, recently published an engaging and enlightening review that argued youth-restoring or life-extending research has created numerous improvements in the human condition.

In his review, Stambler contended that life-extending studies have motivated research, prolonged human life, and created a formidable library of important science. Focusing on the late 1800s and early 1900s, Stambler covered 6 modern — and very important — biomedical interventions that originated from rejuvenation and life-extending research, including:

  • Charles-Edouard Brown-Séquard’s 1889 rejuvenation experiments with animal gland extracts. After self-injecting guinea pig hormones, the Parisian physician reported better work capacity and stamina. His results stimulated interest in hormone replacement, which is a multi-billion dollar industry today.
  • Elie Metchnikoff’s 1900 conception of radically prolonged “orthobiosis.” The 1908 Nobel Prize recipient devoted the last years of his life to rejuvenation and was convinced that gut bacteria played a significant role. He advocated that people consume fermented foods like yogurt, and probiotics are now a valid treatment option.
  • Eugen Steinach’s “endocrine rejuvenation” operations in Vienna, performed between 1910 and 1920. Steinach pioneered the field that studies the general role of physiological sex hormones in the humans. He was also awarded the Nobel Prize in 1922.
  • Serge Voronoff’s “rejuvenation by grafting” experiments, performed between 1910 and 1920. Voronoff is credited with making transplantation, particularly xenotransplantation, a familiar topic globally.
  • Alexis Carrel’s work on cell and tissue immortalization (c. 1900-1920). Carrel believed tissues and organs for transplantation could be artificially grown. One of his tissue cultures from a chicken heart was established in 1912 and remained viable until 1946. He was among the first to preserve organs using cold storage.
  • Paul Niehans’s work during the 1930s, which laid the groundwork for today’s gene therapy. He believed that cell therapy could effectively cure all chronic organic diseases, including cancer.

Life extension and rejuvenation research is more than a trivial anti-aging pursuit. As described in this review, many scientists have improved human quality of life and longevity through their research, and their common goal of proactive maintenance of stable, long-term homeostasis of the entire organism has galvanized many benefits for patients.