Saturday, June 17, 2006

What to Think about CGK733? Anti-aging Drug, or Hoax?

Recent reports from Korean researchers about the discovery of an "anti-aging molecule" have excited many on the web. According to reports:

A team of South Korean scientists on Sunday claimed to have created a ``cellular fountain of youth,’’ or a small molecule, which enables human cells to avoid aging and dying.

The team, headed by Prof. Kim Tae-kook at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, argued the newly-synthesized molecule, named CGK733, can even make cells younger.

The findings were featured by the Britain-based Nature Chemical Biology online early today and will be printed as a cover story in the journal’s offline edition early next month.

``All cells face an inevitable death as they age. On this path, cells became lethargic and in the end stop dividing but we witnessed that CGK733 can block the process,’’ Kim said.

``We also found the synthetic compound can reverse aging, by revitalizing already-lethargic cells. Theoretically, this can give youth to the elderly via rejuvenating cells,’’ the 41-year-old said.

Kim expected that the CGK733-empowered drugs that keep cells youthful far beyond their normal life span would be commercialized in less than 10 years.

This sounds very much like gratuitous self-promotion rather than science. There has been a lot of commentary about this report. Read the back and forth commentary here and here.
This is a thoughtful reminder to always look beyond the surface news.

CGK733 is likely to be a useful laboratory tool for studying senescence and DNA repair. But it will not be a useful anti-aging drug. It is far too simplistic to think that indefinite replication of certain body cells (even all body cells exc. neurons) will prevent aging. Far more is involved in maintaining healthy youthfulness. Nevertheless it is an important capacity for laboratory researchers.

Perhaps after many, many generations and modifications of this class of molecule, a useful anti-aging drug will appear. Give it at least ten to twenty years, with improvement in tools of cell culture, high thru-put screening, real time 3D biochemical cell monitoring, and bioinformatics.


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