Telomere turf wars – Taming the Beast and the Blasco Fiasco

Let me be clear.  I am a supplement guy; have been for years.  I take supplements.  I make supplements and I sell supplements, which have unequivocally improved the lives of a lot of people.

As a supplement guy, the most exciting thing to come along ever, has been TA-65, the Astragalus derived compound that lengthens critically short telomeres.  I am certain that it is the first true bridge to real longevity and health span for people.

But not everyone agrees.

Thea Singer, a journalist who writes for The Beast, published a scathing article about TA-65.  It was a cleverly written, thinly veiled attempt to discredit TA-65 and many of the scientists that have worked on it.
The former issue does not bother me.  TA-65 is controversial, because of what it does and how it does it.  The concept that something may actually lengthen life and the cellular mechanisms by which it may do so, are so radical to human thinking, that it will take a while for people to catch on and readjust to a new reality.

That reality is coming no matter what.

Typical agendas to discredit TA-65 include: ‘aging is not a disease, just do normal things like your parents told you, eat right, destress and exercise and you’ll be fine – until you hit 80 and die.’ Then my personal favorite; ‘those greedy doctors are just trying to make a buck out of people who are getting older.’  Since TA-65 is an expensive supplement, many people claim they cannot afford it or simply won’t.

All of that is understandable and typical.

But there are the obvious flaws with the Beast article.

1)     While the mouse model of human aging is very useful, mice do not age by telomere shortening alone and the scientists interviewed in the article know that.  They are also aware, I am sure, of the human published trial with TA-65 showing similar results, to what has been found in mice.

2)     Lack of statistical significance means any finding that does not reach statistical significance is likely to be chance – and the scientists know that too. No doubt they have used that term hundreds of times with that exact meaning in their own studies.

3)     The oral absorption of TA-65 and/or TAT 2, is both well documented by Dr Harley and Co. and the scientists know that as well.  They have no doubt seen the same data and same slides I have that date back to prior to 2007, showing marked improvements in the immune function and reduction in various viral loads in early testing.  I guess all that happened because of the world’s biggest placebo effect and had nothing to do with the compound being absorbed orally.

Again, this kind of stuff is pretty much par for the course for writers who have an anti-anti-aging agenda.

But then they started picking on the individual scientists.

Thea Singer mentioned Cal Harley’s age of 58.  She did not say how old anyone else was, just Cal.  Then came the insinuation that Dr Harley was looking for a soft place to land and some financial gain from TA-65, etc.  I forgot that scientists are not supposed to make money.  They are supposed to grovel for grant money instead.  Money is bad, unless you are a journalist! My bad!

Still, I and thousands and probably soon millions of people, will be in debt in a non-financial way to Dr Harley for his seminal work in the field of telomerase activation and human health and longevity.

Also, somehow Singer forgot to mention that Dr Elizabeth Blackburn, who is one of the Nobel Laureates from 2009, is now in business with Dr Harley.  Care to comment on that Ms. Singer? Does that also make her a 50 something scientist looking for a big financial score?  I doubt it!

Then came the attack on poor (or maybe soon to be not so poor!) Maria Blasco, whose work on the specifics of telomerase activation and its longevity effects is second to none.

I wondered what got everyone so upset at Maria?  After all, she worked for and with one of the Nobel Laureates as well.

Then it dawned on me.

She basically invented short telomere testing, which is the single most important thing for individual results and small group studies, despite the protestations against its use.  Recent articles have shown that the short telomeres are the critical ones in terms of the results of what happens to and inside a cell.

  • The shortest telomere (not average telomere length) is critical for cell viability and chromosome stability. Hemann et al. Cell 107(1): 67-77

Incidentally, this paper is not new; it was published in 2001 from Carol Greider’s lab!

Ultimately the work on short telomeres means that mean telomere length (MTL), long the standard of studies on telomeres, is of marginal use when following an individual’s telomere therapeutics, especially over such a short time frame as one year.

It also means that we should be using that test and not the MTL for such studies, since the MTL is a pretty sloppy test.  I have read studies using a Q-PCR MTL analysis, claiming a near miraculous telomere lengthening after 90 days.  Given that the Q-PCR varies by a standard deviation of 1,000 base pairs, I find those results questionable.  Same with the FLO-FISH, which while twice as good, still has a huge variability gap.

Clearly MTL is very useful but only in the right situations. It only takes one short telomere to send a cell into senescence, crisis or worse.

In vivo telomerase finds the short telomeres first and fixes them first and in many cases exclusively.  That is the natural order of things.  It may be speculation, but it seems that any meaningful improvements in MTL come from the lengthening of short telomeres in the first place.

More outrageous was the insinuation that Maria Blasco’s TA-65 study deliberately coincided with the launch of her new company, Life Length, which is devoted to measuring short telomeres.  Anyone with even a tiny bit of business sense knows that starting a biotech company requires investors and venture capitalists.  I highly doubt Dr. Blasco was able to conveniently arrange for her investments to coincide with the exact date of the TA-65 study.  I highly doubt that was even a consideration.  Still, I am glad it happened.

Then again, I am just a dumb doctor – not a brilliant researcher.  But I can see why people are upset with Maria Blasco for changing the rules of the game and ushering in a really meaningful way for those of us who individually want to follow what is happening to our telomeres.

For the record, I think all of the scientists involved in the “Blasco Fiasco” are brilliant.  But of course Dr. Harley and Dr. Blasco were not asked to comment.  Neither was another brilliant scientist, Dr Bill Andrews, who discovered the human telomerase gene.

I found Ms. Singer’s article pretty repugnant on many levels, but not surprising I guess.  It made me wish scientists would concentrate on being scientists.  It made me wish all of the scientists in this field would get the professional courtesy, recognition and yes, money they deserve for ushering what must surely become the biggest discovering in the history of human health and longevity.

Finally, I wondered why Thea Singer would take such a stance, other than what has already been mentioned.

Maybe her book is not selling.

Ours is doing great.

Dave Woynarowski, MD – co-author The Immortality Edge

8 thoughts on “Telomere turf wars – Taming the Beast and the Blasco Fiasco”

  1. Many people seem to be afraid of radical life extension. It runs contrary to the established and accepted norm. But the norm will change. It’s changing already.

    1. Dear CM, I agree but I remind all of us the gene for cellular immortality exists in every cell with a nucleus, which is 99.999999% of cells, so from a cellular biology point it’s not that radical at all. Most “paradigm shifts” run under alibis like science and money but the real thing that drives change is “social proof,” meaning when enough people are doing it. With telomerase activation that time has already come. The rest of it will be accelerated as a result. Those left behind will be… well, left behind until they get off the fence. Five years form now telomerase activation will be part of every day life for huge numbers of people. Dr Dave

  2. lisa alexander

    (a) it doesn’t matter if it’s a “placebo effect” in this case, so are a lot of “anti-depressants” performing only as good as (or worse than) placebos – so if that’s what it is – WOW! testament to the power of the mind!
    (b) let the skeptics stay skeptical. I suspect it’s like Ormus and other interesting things – it FINDS its targets…
    Reading The Immortality Edge now. Thanks Dr. Dave. Hope to see you at next Longevity Conference 🙂

  3. I just got the book and read nearly half or more in the first night after I got it. What an awesome book! Finally something written by intelligent people without an agenda accept to help their fellow man enjoy life because life is good. Sadly there will always be the naysayers who for whatever reason will always find flaws with everything that is put forth. These people are many times the pessimists, the ones who lack real self-esteem and have to make themselves feel like their cruddy, hopeless lives is somehow made better by trying to discredit and/or ridicule the brilliant scientists’ discoveries. We usually say to these sorts of people, “get a life!” Sadly though even when offered a life they would probably waste that one cutting down something else or someone else because in reality there is no cure for stupidity. I personally feel that although not inexpensive by the average American’s measure the alternative is death at what could be an early age depending on your genes and lifestyle. We each only have one shot at this thing called life and based on what I have read and viewed both online and offline I will try this life lengthening process and why not? The worst thing you have to lose is your life and that is a sure bet anyhow. As a friend of mine says humorously all the time, “No one and I mean no one is getting out of here alive!” So why not take a shot at living a long time. After all, I’ve heard it said that the bet revenge is to outlive them all. (All being the naysayers that is.)

    1. Thanks, Joe. Be sure to stay tuned; I have interviewed Steve Matlin of Lifelength and plan to visit Maria Blasco, their chief scientist, in Madrid in June for an interview as well. You would be amazed at the value people put on their own lives. Entertainment expenses are considered more important. Given the proliferation of $100 a month nonsense out there, masquerading as telomerase activators, I would say that is what most people think there life is worth! Better to waste 1200 a year on something that doesn’t work than on something proven!

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