Tapping Hidden Embryonic Powers for Perfect Health

Dear Reader,

My trip back from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel was brutal. It was a 26-hour trek complicated by a nasty cold, but it was worth it. While in Rehobot, south of Tel Aviv, I found unexpected support for what may be the most important scientific theory of our era. It is the theory that aging can be reversed by accessing embryonic gene pathways.

This is a hard concept to grapple with. All our institutions and traditions work on the assumption that each of us is on a fairly predictable trip to the grave.

The medical profession is no exception. For the most part, health care deals with the diseases that arise with age. The idea that aging can be treated is just now being accepted.

The Controversial Concept of Age Reversal

Age reversal, true rejuvenation, is much further from the mainstream. Many researchers, in fact, are openly hostile to the notion. I understand why.

Gerontologists have spent decades convincing the world that aging can be slowed. Now that progress is being made, they don’t want crazy science-fiction concepts like age reversal to muddy the waters.

I disagree. I think that the prospect of age reversal will make the modest goal of slowing aging seem less radical. But I see why some scientists flee from the concept of age reversal.

Some people would prefer that such biotechnologies never happen. This is somewhat understandable.

It’s hard to imagine the way in which significantly longer lifespans would change the world… and some of the possible outcomes aren’t pretty.

Legendary scientist John von Neumann coined the popular term “singularity” to describe a technological event so profound that the consequences are beyond our predictive abilities.

Somehow, the singularity became linked to the development of sentient artificial intelligence (AI). That wasn’t what he predicted.

True age reversal, rejuvenation, would have a greater impact. Though health spans that stretch many hundreds of years into the future disturb many people, I know scientists who think it will happen… and sooner than we think.

Biotech’s Breakthroughs in Rejuvention

At present, age reversal is accomplished regularly with human cell cultures. Now, important scientists are intent on doing the same thing in vivo, in living organisms.

The first public announcement that actual progress was being made in this area came from Michael West last year. Following early but spectacular results from his stem cell therapy for spinal cord injuries, West was asked to deliver a keynote presentation at the World Stem Cell Summit.

There, he explained the basics of induced tissue regeneration (ITR). The entire address is online here, but the basic theory is relatively simple.

As you know, every cell in your body contains your entire genome. Not all genes are active in every cell though. Toenail genes aren’t active in the cells of your eyes and visa versa. More importantly, your original embryonic blueprint, the model of perfect youthful health, is still present in your cells.

Though those embryonic genes are turned off, it is theoretically possible to reactivate them in adults.

There are examples of this in nature such as the Mexican salamander. These animals can utilize their embryonic pathways to regenerate damaged limbs and organs their entire lives.

Despite his leading role in stem cell medicine, West’s belief in ITR was sure to be doubted. The idea is too radical to be accepted by the mainstream. A week later, though, Salk Institute scientists released data about their own investigations in the area. Moreover, they reported evidence from early animal trials.

In addition, USC gerontologist Valter Longo showed that his fasting mimicking diet (FMD) was regenerating pancreatic beta cells in animals. Without beta cells, we would have type 1 diabetes.

His explanation was that FMD activates embryonic gene pathways. He also theorized that the drug rapamycin extends animal lives through the same mechanism. Still, more support from the scientific community will be needed before the theory is taken seriously.

Visiting the Weizmann Institute in Tel Aviv, I was surprised to find more confirmation. There, I saw a presentation about the work of the Sagol Institute of Longevity. Contained in the talk was indirect support for the theory that embryonic pathways can be reawakened.

Here is a video is that presents the basic information. In it, Prof. Eldad Zahor directly refers to the potential to tap embryonic pathways to repair damaged hearts.

If embryonic mechanisms can repair hearts, they can repair the entire body. That, I believe, is where medicine is headed.

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