Michael Fossel Michael is President of Telocyte

March 23, 2016

Soliloquy, Requiem, and . . . Hope

Early last Saturday, I received a short, sad email from an old friend. Many of you may know Leonard Hayflick, who first pointed out that cells age, more than fifty years ago. He stood up for himself and for the truth of his data, in the face of strong opposition and irrationality, and finally proved that cells do not age because of the passage of time, but because of cell divisions. From that one observation – and his willingness to stand by his observations – we have come to realize that not only do cells age, but that it is cell aging that causes our bodies to age and causes all the myriad diseases of aging: “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.”

Len Hayflick’s wife, Ruth, died last Friday night, leaving Len alone physically, but by no means alone in spirit. He has admirers and friends throughout the world and will have them throughout time. He deserves more than we can possibly give him.

As we age, we have long suffered the slings and arrows of fortune, yet only now do we – almost, tantalizingly – have the ability to end them. The pity is, that we do so too late, not only for those who are already gone, but for those who will yet succumb before we can help. It is aging itself , and the diseases of aging, that “makes calamity of so long life”. We are so close to curing the diseases of aging, yet even that very proximity, compounded by our pressing need, makes a cure feel so tragically far away. The greater the need, the closer the goal, the more pitiable that we have yet to achieve it.

Over the next few years, many of us will suffer, and suffer needlessly. If only we could have moved faster yesterday, if only we were moving faster today, if only we will move faster tomorrow: we would have saved lives yesterday, we would be saving lives today, we will have been saving more lives tomorrow. And yet, here we are more than fifty years since one honest man stood up and – with his “native hue of resolution” — pointed out reality. Why has it been half a century and yet we still suffer from diseases that could have been cured? Why does it take so long to save the lives and souls of those who still endure the sea of troubles that comes in, seemingly inevitably, as we age?

Soon, very soon, we will cure Alzheimer’s and a host of other diseases, yet however soon it will be, it will have been too late for too many of us. And far too late for some of those we love, those we long for, those we will long remember.

May those memories soon push us to create a more compassionate world.

March 1, 2016

Changing the World

Perseverance is critical to innovation.

If you try to change the world, you might fail, but if you don’t try, you will certainly fail. In 1616, the church banned Galileo’s theory that the Earth went around the sun, which is now accepted as obviously true. Relativity and quantum theory were once derided by classical physicists, physicists who are now mocked, if not utterly forgotten. Twelve separate publishers turned down J K Rowling’s first book, the first of a series that have so far netted her an estimated one billion dollars and resulted in a brand, itself worth 15 billion dollars. No matter the advance in science, medicine, or the arts, the greater the importance and the greater the innovation, the more it was fought against by those who “knew” better.

The larger the crowd, the louder the cries, the less the truth can be heard.

Today, I was on a call with a major global investor who, data notwithstanding, cannot see how age-related disease can possibly be altered. Despite their investing in a biotech company that focuses on epigenetics, they cannot see how epigenetics can offer anything for age-related disease. Where once astronomers ignored the data and struggled to fit our solar system into epicycles, we now ignore the data, give lip service to epigenetics, and ignore the profound clinical implications that lie immediately in front of us.

Age-related diseases – whether Alzheimer’s, arteriosclerosis, osteoarthritis, or a host of others – are not diseases of “bad genes”, but bad gene expression. Once we look afresh at what causes disease, once we look honestly at the data, once we examine our assumptions and realize we have been wrong, the potential for curing disease, for making our lives better, for bringing hope becomes clear. We believe what the crowd believes, we listen to the loudest voices, while closing our eyes and ears to reality, as though we feared to understand it.

Someday we will look back at age-related disease and (as has so often been true in a myriad of other cases), we will ask what was the key that finally led to progress. The key is not genius, hard work, knowledge, funding, or even insight. The key is to keep going, even when the world seems bent on remaining foolish and bent on keeping you from making the world a better place. No matter how many people, blinders in place, tell you that something can’t be done, that you can’t do it, and that your view is wrong, follow logic, look at the data, think clearly, keep your mind open, examine your assumptions, and – above all – keep going.

The key isn’t genius, but perseverance.

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