The Telomerase Revolution by Michael Fossel (book review)

‘The Telomerase Revolution’ has nothing to do with a country in revolt but all to do with longevity, the effects of which are often explored in Science Fiction. At the tips of each chromosome are called telomeres that determines the number of times your body can keep going before old age and death occurs. With humans, using the Hayflick Limit, it’s about 40-60 times although a very small minority with progeria, life is so much shorter. Thinking logistically with the bell statistical curve, I would have to ask are there any people out there who simply don’t age as well? I mean not looking old like those who like past hundred but simply don’t age. Mind you, if the Howard families from Robert Heinlein’s books are anything to go by, they’d move on before anyone wonders why.


Back to reality, writer Doctor Michael Fossel points out in his opening chapters, there are still medical people getting their heads around telomeres but the evidence presented is rather convincing. The length of the telomeres does not determine this as short-lived mice telomeres are long and human telomeres short but it is changes in them that controls how people age. You are still matched to human frailties but you would leave a healthier life.

Fossel points out that the act of aging is very much an evolutionary process to ensure that offspring are there to further develop or evolve any species to environmental changes. Something I didn’t know is where there are multiple births, one is a perfect genetic specimen but the other is likely to carry a mutant gene variant to ensure change is possible to adapt to environmental changes. I suspect that might also explain recurring mutations as with colour or lack of, as with albino, changes that happens.

What was rather startling to me is how medical research in this area can be stopped simply by those who own the patents not allowing it. All right, granted they would need some sort of payment or as the company finally did, which was lease and then sell on. Even so, medical research is supposed to help mankind and there should be amendment in the law to allow further research/investigation if it’s been left to stagnate for too long. After all, how many cures might have been missed by such action?

The examination of osteoporosis and how the body adapts to such changes reminded me a lot about the medical effects observed with astronauts. Being able to control the genes through telomeres that causes these effects might well be the way to remove such fragilities from extended space flight. It’s also a sharp reminder as how our bodies are always changing. Fossel indicates that also manipulating telomeres might not prevent dying, the quality of life would be far better.

Fossel also goes on to explore a lot of illnesses that are a product of aging and although pointing out what sorting out telomeres can do, doesn’t labour the point but point out things you can do yourself to keep healthy. Obviously, this applies more to the American market than here. I don’t think picking fresh food from the wall shelves in supermarkets rather than the centre processed foods is applicable here and he doesn’t mention the fruit and vegetable section which is all over the place.

You do come away from this book with a better understanding of cancer, type one diabetes (my own subject), heart attacks, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, diets and the choice of sugars, not to mention changing what you eat to your physical activity. By that I mean, if you cut back on exercise, then cut back on your diet as well or you’ll put on weight. Although there is some technical discussion, Fossel comes over as a kindly doctor, which he is, so you should be able to grasp what he gets at. Again, I’ll emphasise that resolving telomere issues won’t stop you aging but it will ensure a better quality of life.

There are other bonuses from research in this area once resolved. With old age now, Alzheimer’s disease is increasingly prevalent and if you get a healthier body, Fossel estimates treatment to be about $100 (about £50) every decade, a lot cheaper than health care, although whether American medical insurance groups would agree is another matter. One thing he doesn’t explore is population growth with this but I suspect that most people would not want to continually have larger families so things would probably balance out. Fossel does hit on some SF examples saying that it wouldn’t happen like them although misses out on Heinlein’s Lazarus Long/Howard families stories which would be a lot closer to what he describes.

This is a very enlightening book and if you have any interest in longevity then it will certainly make you think. Fossel points out that the way that advances are being made now that this is all likely to be possible in the next couple decades which means most of us reading here are likely to benefit from such treatment once all the medical profession is on-board with the subject. It won’t make you immortal but who wouldn’t pass up an option to be a lot healthier into old age?

GF Willmetts

January 2016

(pub: Atlantic Books. 220 page indexed enlarged paperback. Price: £14.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-78239-910-0)

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