Our Trials are a Blessing: A Life Shaped by a Genetic Disease

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To anyone who has seen the ebullient scientist in his natural laboratory habitat, often in a short-sleeved shirt and always cracking jokes, he looked uncharacteristically kempt in a blue blazer and dress khakis. But his practice run kept hitting a historical speed bump. Jay Olshansky, a biodemographer of aging from the University of Illinois, Chicago.

Barzilai, a year-old with a boyish mop of gray hair, wore a contrite grin. Then he proceeded to lay out the details of an ambitious clinical trial. The group—academics all—wanted to conduct a double-blind study of roughly elderly people; half would get a placebo and half would get an old indeed, ancient drug for type 2 diabetes called metformin, which has been shown to modify aging in some animal studies. The metformin initiative, which Barzilai is generally credited with spearheading, is unusual by almost any standard of drug development.

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The people pushing for the trial are all academics, none from industry although Barzilai is co-founder of a biotech company, CohBar Inc. The trial would be sponsored by the nonprofit AFAR, not a pharmaceutical company. No one stood to make money if the drug worked, the scientists all claimed; indeed, metformin is not only generic, costing just a few cents a dose, but belongs to a class of drugs that has been part of the human apothecary for years.

Patient safety was unlikely to be an issue; millions of diabetics have taken metformin since the s, and its generally mild side effects are well-known. Nor did they need formal approval from FDA to proceed.

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By the time the scientists were done, the rehearsal—which was being filmed for a television documentary—had the feel of a pep rally. They spoke with unguarded optimism. As the group piled into a van for the drive to FDA headquarters, there was more talk about setting precedents and opening doors.

Born in Haifa in , he joined the military as a medical instructor and in served as a medical officer in the special forces raid on Entebbe, Uganda, that freed hostages from a hijacked Air France airliner. With a lot of lessons. But the major thing is that you realize that you can do a lot! After obtaining his M.

He had every intention of returning to Israel, but a fellowship at Yale University in —88 upended his plans. At Yale, he studied the mechanism of several oral drugs that lowered blood sugar in diabetics. One was metformin.


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During his time in New Haven, Barzilai ended up meeting his wife-to-be on a blind date. In , he landed a position at Einstein and discovered, in nearby neighborhoods, a cohort of unusually long-lived Ashkenazi Jews. Since then, the researchers have collected data on the genetics, epigenetics, blood chemistry, and lifestyles of both centenarians and their children. Barzilai probed aging factors from by studying centenarians and their children, including Jerome Wiesenberg, The Einstein team has identified, for example, variants in two genes associated with increased levels of high density lipoproteins which have a protective effect on cardiovascular health in this population.

They have found that centenarians more often carry a genetic variant that down-regulates insulinlike growth factor 1 IGF-1 , part of a hormonal pathway that not only regulates growth, but also has been implicated in aging. By manipulating individual genes and measuring effects on life span, researchers could test the role of specific molecular pathways in aging. In perhaps the most dramatic mammalian example, Andrzej Bartke, a biologist at the Southern Illinois University School of Medicine in Springfield, showed that mice with mutated growth pathways, which disabled both growth hormone and IGF-1, were much smaller—but lived much longer.

And their identification has opened the door to a previously outlandish notion. The idea is that slowing down the process of aging, even modestly, would have enormous benefits for quality of life and the economics of health care. Even a modest delay in aging could increase average life expectancy by 2. Would the agency be open to a trial that had multiple illnesses as an endpoint? As an initial step, earlier this year Sierra organized seminars at FDA in which NIA researchers described recent findings in the biology of aging.

Buoyed by the advances in basic research, NIA in inaugurated a program of animal experiments to test compounds that might alter or slow down the aging process. NIA-supported researchers have tested 16 compounds in mice. Five have shown a positive effect, Sierra says: aspirin, acarbose a widely prescribed diabetes drug , alpha-estradiol the nonfeminizing form of estrogen , nordihydroguaiaretic acid an herbal compound derived from the creosote plant , and the immunosuppressive drug rapamycin used in organ transplant recipients.

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Among the compounds that had no impact are fish oil, green tea extract, curcumin, and the much-ballyhooed red wine ingredient resveratrol. Rapamycin was the most impressive. Or you could watch this award-winning Christmas video. My daughter has never actually had a tantrum over a Segway! When my children returned to school this term, I felt quite lost for a couple of days. Suddenly the flat was quiet and I had time to do all the things I had been putting off during the holidays. But where to start? But I have noticed one thing:.

I keep thinking about these words:. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John This is the same whether your kids are at home, at school, or at the hospital. Jesus has a curriculum ready for me, too.

Our Trials Are a Blessing: A Life Shaped by a Genetic Disease by Allen Graves Smith

And this is good news! Apart from Him you can do nothing. I need to depend on Him. Seriously, I need to remain in him. Jesus repeats this phrase to emphasise that this is what we need. We must depend on him. We must trust and obey him. Is it to keep a neat hallway? Is it to donate more stuff to the charity shop? Is it to finally teach my daughter the piano? Well, those could be my mini goals, but my ultimate goal must be to glorify my Father in heaven. That is obedience. And try not to forget the packed lunches. Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles.

For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. About ten years ago my parents, husband and I went to watch the Great North Run a half-marathon because my brother and his wife were running it. Many people wear their name on their vest so you can call it out as they run by. We positioned ourselves quite near the end of the race, so some people we saw were really flagging.


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  7. And of course, what do you do when you see someone who looks half dead? You cheer all the louder! You can do this! Not much further!

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    I think one of the reasons I got so choked up about all of this was that it brought to mind the fact that the Christian life is like a race. Scripture mentions this several times. We look like we might not even finish. Sometimes this happens because of big life events, like the birth of our first child, or an illness in the family, or the death of a loved one.

    But at those times, we need encouragement to keep going. At my local parkrun on Saturday, there was a group who all knew each other from a running club. Some of them finished fifteen or twenty minutes after others. Think of your friends who have struggled in this Christian race. The ones who need reminding to come to Bible study, or who need persuading to come to church. How overjoyed will you be to see them cross the finish line! However, we do also have a responsibility to make it to the finish line, and to help our brothers and sisters to get there, too.

    They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last for ever.