October 1, 2016
Michael Fossel is a fictional character in Thunderbird, a biologist who is invited onto a radio talk show because he had traveled through the North Dakota stargate to a world very much like Eden. Well, that's correct as far as it goes. The reality, though, is that Dr. Fossel is a real person, a neurologist rather than a biologist. He's a longtime friend who gave me permission to send him wandering around the universe. But, incredible as this may sound, there's something even more electric in his repertory. If all goes well, he will have a far greater impact on our lives than could result from simply traveling to another planet.
He has devoted his life to research on the ageing process. Why? Because he sees no reason we should allow our bodies to succumb to negative effects imposed on us simply because we've survived too many years. The gradual breakdown which we all experience in our later years, he maintains, is not caused by simply having parts wear out. Nor –and this is what matters—is the process inevitable.
Last year, he published The Telomerase Revolution (BenBella Books), a groundbreaking analysis that seeks to establish telomerase as the key to heading off old age. Telomerase is an enzyme that makes cells immortal by resetting the activity level of genes, making them effectively young again. Telomeres are found on the tips of chromosomes. The problem is that, over time, they wear down. They grow shorter. And our physical capabilities shrink with them.
Find a way to restore the activity of telomerase, to keep it functional, and we should be able to expand our life expectancy into centuries. And I can understand that most of us would be skeptical of that kind of claim. We're accustomed to accepting old age as one of the inevitable realities of being human. But Matt Redley, writing about The Telomerase Revolution in The London Times, comments: "When you think about it, the fertilized egg from which you grew had three billion years of continuous life under its belt when it turned into you, and didn't look a day over zero."
It has had strong reviews, and The Wall Street Journal included it among its Best Books for Science Lovers. I should add that the author has written this one for popular consumption.
Dr. Fossel continues his research. He is the founder of Telocyte, Inc., whose prime concern is giving all of us a chance at a much longer and healthier life. I'll admit that I don't care much whether he is able to travel to another planet, but I would love to see him succeed with his revolution.