Scott: What is different about stem cells when it comes to telomeres?
Ed Park, MD, MPH: Basically, stem cells are able to actively lengthen their telomeres, whereas run-of-the-mill cells, like skin cells, can't, so they'll burn out within 40 divisions. But the technical answer to that is that while all cells will make the telomerase engine, only the stem cells will have the proper key to run the engine. They will be the only ones that will actively lengthen their telomeres.
Scott: Do our bodies make enough stem cells? We hear a lot about stem cell treatments and therapies. Can you talk about the difference between the two there?
Ed Park, MD, MPH: That's a good question. What they're doing is they're taking cells from your fat, let's say, and extracting them and putting them back in. For example, a friend of ours, Suzanne Somers, did that with her breasts. She was the first patient. She brought the trial in after years. But what you're doing in that case is you're putting more chairs in a high school gym than really belong there, and over time it will start to deteriorate again.
Let's say I talked about the liver having a hundred honeycombs with a hundred queen bees, a hundred little queendoms. You can't force 200 cells into a 100-cell container, or 200 honeycombs. When you do these, with the exception of large animal veterinary care which they've had good success in joints and things like that, basically, there's a set number of niches or there's just so many stem cells that need to be there. What you really need is directed stem cell destruction and then replacement.
The problem is not the lack of stem cells. There's always gajillions of stem cells floating around ready to take over when someone dies. The problem is that you have these queen bees that are dysfunctional, they don't know to get out. Part of what the TA does, I believe, it helps the ones that are trying to kill themselves, kill themselves. Unless you're a very old person, and old people tend to have more damaged stem cells floating around, so what are you replacing it with? There's always a plethora of stem cells available to fix it. The problem is you can't get the bad ones out.
Scott: Talk about how that relates to aging and how that might affect longevity. If the bad stem cells don't kill themselves off, how do we turn that around and then affect our longevity?
Ed Park, MD, MPH: Well, that's the whole deal right there. The Nobel Prize this year was for induced pluripotent stem cells, right? Every little chemical reaction to differentiate forward and backward will just be a matter of routine. If you can hold on for 20 years, you, Scott, can get your own liver from your own genetically identical, perfect, best copy. You're going to get replacement parts that are like factory OEM, 1972 or whatever it is. When you get to that point, you're good.
The point now is, I just got an email from a patient of mine who said there's this nanotechnology so you could go with a magic bullet and target dysfunctional stem cells. That would be good. The good news is we do this naturally by telomerase activation. You know, you go to a mountain retreat or you start eating well or you do a cleanse or you meditate. It increases telomerase activity to the point where you can get quantum changes in your stem cells and they die. Or you could pop this pill, which is a total cheat, but in my opinion, it does cause the cells to just annihilate and replace.
Witness me. I was 30 pounds heavier and within three months, no diet or exercise, gone. That sounds really crazy and too good to be true, but it happened because I believe that my visceral fat cells, the queen bees, were killed. The reason it took three months was because her descendants had to go through 40 replications to burn out. So all of a sudden one day three months later I just woke up skinny. I really think that this is a cheat, but it's a very safe cheat. If you don't have the inclination to go to the gym and eat well and be a positive person, then just pop a pill.