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Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw

And the more we looked, the more we found, and the better the theory looked. Because here was a testable mechanistic hypothesis as to what causedaging, and many age-related diseases. And all of a sudden– it’s something you just didn’t think about before, like fish presumably don’t think about water.They may see bubbles but they don’t see the water. Aging is something that people have taken for granted, at least in western society, from time immemorial.

Sandy: This was mainly because there really wasn’t much of anything you could do about it, other than have parents and grandparents that were long lived. So why bother thinking about it?

Durk: And all of a sudden to realize suddenly that– wow– there has to be biochemical mechanisms. Aging isn’t just something that happens somehow.There are laws that govern it. There are mechanisms that make it happen.

Sandy: So here was a theory that someone proposed which sounded very interesting. We wanted to find out as much as we could about it, and see if it looked like this was a practical way that you could increase your life span.

Durk: We thought that if the free radical mechanisms are responsible for aging and many age-related diseases– for example, cardiovascular disease and cancer– then it should be possible to interfere with those mechanisms once you understand them, and actually reduce the rate of aging and the risk of theseage-related diseases.

David: Biochemically altering the aging process was a relatively novel concept at the time; most people just took aging for granted.

Sandy: Well, you know it’s not something that people never thought about before. There have been people before that like Leonardo Da Vinci, and then closer to our time Elie Metchnichov (who received the Nobel Prize for discovering macrophages) around the turn of the century, who really thought about the issue of what caused aging.

Durk: Let me give you an example. Da Vinci went around to find people who were in the process of dying of old age. Now it was very difficult to find people who died of old age, back before things like flush toilets and antibiotics. But he did find some such people, and when they died he dissected them. And he’s the first person to describe atherosclerosis. In fact, he became a vegetarian, not for ethical reasons– he had nothing against killing animals, as far as we know– it was that he saw these fats clogging up people’s arteries.

Sandy: And he thought that he might be able to avoid that by eating just plants.

Durk: He was far ahead of his time. Now around World War I, a scientist by the name of McKay did some experiments with feeding nucleic acids to mice, and he found you could get life span extensions. The problem is the mechanism was unknown. And when you don’t have any mechanism– well, there’shundreds of thousands of different chemicals you could try to dump into an animal, and what’s the chances of getting a positive result?

Sandy: It’s not practical for any number of reasons. Nobody would have the time or money to do it–there’s too many different substances. But even if you happen to bump into a particular substance that might work, you won’t necessarily use the right dose.

Durk: Not only that, but even if you found something that worked in mice and used the right dose, there’d be no reason on earth– if you don’t understand the mechanism– to think that it had anything whatsoever to do with human beings.

Sandy: Yeah, that’s right. So it was a very exciting 

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