David B. Agus, MD, author of the New York Times and international bestsellers The End of Illness and A Short Guide to a Long Life, is a professor of medicine and engineering at the University of Southern California and heads USC’s Westside Cancer Center and the Center for Applied Molecular Medicine. He is one of the world’s leading cancer doctors and pioneering biomedical researchers, and is a CBS News contributor. His newest book is THE LUCKY YEARS: How to Thrive in the Brave New World of Health.
Over the past twenty years, he has received acclaim for his innovations in medicine and contributions to new technologies, which continue to change the perception of health and empower people around the world to maintain healthy lives, longer. Dr. Agus has built a reputation for his unique way of viewing the body’s relationship to health and disease. He explains, “Sometimes you have to go to war to understand peace. My work in the cancer war has taught me a lot about all things health-related, much of which goes against conventional wisdom.” An international leader in new technologies and approaches for personalized healthcare, he cofounded two revolutionary companies in personalized medicine: Navigenics and Applied Proteomics.
David Agus: I want to tell you one story. And the story came from the early 1950s. A woman named Wanda Ruth Lunsford — she was a scientist in New York City and she published one paper, which turned out to be her only paper in science and she was actually pushed out of science. What she did was she took an old rat and a young rat, she put them to sleep and she tied their skin together. So after about a day or so their blood supplies joined. Well, several weeks later she looked and in that old rat, there were new neurons growing in the brain, the heart beat stronger and the muscles were bigger. The gray hair turned brown again. She claimed she reversed aging. People call her Dracula, Frankenstein, all kinds of crazy names.
Well, earlier this year three separate laboratories at Harvard; Stanford; University of California, San Francisco, repeated the experiment and it worked. And what they showed is at age 25, in you and I, our stem cells go to sleep and get turned off. And proteins, from young mice in this case or young humans, can turn them back on again. And when these stem cells get turned back on, new neurons can be grown, repair happens much quicker in tissue. We all see that. Our child breaks his leg; he or she is back walking again in a couple weeks. You don't even know what happened. Your grandmother breaks her leg and it hits her quality of life the rest of her life. So there are clinical trials now using proteins that were found in young individuals to try to stimulate bone repair in the elderly who have fractures. And so just like a diabetic requires a shot of insulin so that they can manage their sugar, going forward if you break your leg in the elderly, we may just give you a shot of these proteins to turn back on your stem cells so you can repair quicker.
We're trying it in cancer because cancer in kids is about 90 percent curable. Once you turn 25, that same cancer turns incurable. So maybe if I can convince the body it's younger I can have, or we as a science community can have, a bigger impact on cancer. So I leave you with that bit of hope that aging is something that may be able to be reversed, and not so that we can live till 150, but so that we can all live until our ninth or 10th decade without there being a decrease in quality in those last decades, because that would be the goal, quality years till the end.