21st Century Alchemy: Formulating a New Evidence-Based 'Elixir of Life'

’A certain power to alter things adheres in the human soul.’ – Albertus Magnus (13th Century Doctor Universalis, author of De mineralibus, teacher of Thomas Aquinas, and patron saint of natural scientists)

The Past

Since ancient times, practitioners of the ‘Alchemical Arts’ – sometimes referred to as the ‘Dark Arts’ – have sought an ‘Elixir of Life’… a formula (usually in the form of a specially prepared liquid concoction) that would confer immortality, or “eternal youth”, onto whomever ingested it (while reciting the prescribed incantations, of course). In ancient Western traditions, the belief and practice of Alchemy (a mixture of proto-chemistry and esoteric symbology) was integrally tied up with the philosopher’s stone – a mystical and essential mineral whose properties enabled both the transmutation of lead into gold, and, the attainment of eternal (youthful) vigor (i.e., an antidote to aging).

Additionally, in the ancient Eastern cultures of India and China, mystical healers and practitioners of the medicinal arts developed various herbal and mineral recipes and constitutional proscriptions for prolonged health and life (e.g., ‘traditional Chinese medicine’/TCM, in China, and, the *Ayurvedic *traditions in India).

The Present

Jumping ahead to the early 21st Century… There have been a handful of notable contributions to the human quest for ‘prolonged life’ and/or an extended healthspan: the still controversial discovery of a lifespan-doubling gene mutation in the DNA of fruit flies (dubbed Indy, for ‘I’m not dead yet’)… the discovery in yeast cells of the lifespan extending SIR2 gene (in humans, SIRT1/SIRT2, which code for proteins called surtuins) that function optimally under conditions of *caloric restrictionalso%20associated%20with%20longer%20lifespan in mice and other animals (but not, unequivocally, in humans)… and even, most recently, the still somewhat mysterious ability of blood circulation ‘coupling’ (known as parabiosis) between younger and older rats that restored youthful memory and muscle strength in the older rodents. Still, despite these discoveries and experiments, a rational and repeatable method, treatment, or formula for extending human health/lifespan has eluded us.

And not to be too Western-centric, a great many people world-wide still embrace TCM and Ayurvedic formulaton and recipes (which often take the form of herbal ‘cocktails’, as in TCM), as well as other more popular herbal remedies (e.g., kombucha, a probiotic and B-vitamin-rich brew of black tea and sugar). Although often rich in anti-oxidants and other beneficial compounds, a scientific analysis yielding definitive, reproducible evidence of these herbal concoctions’ capabilities to extend health/lifespan has not yet been achieved.

And, despite heavy criticism from the medical and scientific communities, such cocktails and multi-ingredient formulations remain highly popular (a more scaled down version of this phenomenon has even made it into modern clinical practice in the form of pharmaceutical adjuvants). This popularity is possibly due to the appealing ‘all-in-one’ (and ‘one-size-fits-all’) nature of medicinal cocktails. Despite over three centuries of Western Science, many things of a medical nature remain just beyond our rational reach, and so, the allure of the ‘mysterious mixture’ perseveres.

The Future (Towards a Newer Alchemy) - The Key Questions to be Answered

Imagine you are a modern day Alchemist tasked by your boss (or through your own self-motivated/obsessive pursuit) to develop a formulation (or ‘recipe’) to extend the human lifespan, or, alternatively, to delay aging via restoring one’s vigor/good health…

What would be the ingredients* of such a formulation? Why? What (scientific) evidence exists to support the inclusion of a given ingredient in your life/health-extension ‘recipe’? How would you justify/rationalize the combining of any such ingredients into one formulation?

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  • Although the emphasis here is on molecular/medicinal ingredients, a potential ingredient (of a long health/lifespan recipe) need not be a *physical* substance (like a mineral or molecule); it could be a 'lifestyle choice', or a proscribed environment, or some factor(s) never before considered (especially when in combination with other conditions or factors).
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    **A New Alchemy - The XPrize Elixir of Life Challenge **

    Design a formulation, or, create a recipe, for restoring youth/delaying aging and/or extending health/lifespan in humans. For any physical (ingestible) formulation (or part of the overall recipe), the formulation should be intended as an intervention targeted at any modest or advanced adult age (e.g., >49 years old).

    Up to 10 Solutions (formulations or recipes) will be selected from the initial pool of submissions. A monetary prize pool of between 50, 000.00 to 100, 000.00 will be split amongst the selected winners of this Stage (who may move on to the Second Stage if they choose).

    Note: the concept of ‘restoring youth’ is clearly related to, if not equivalent to, ‘delaying aging’. And, if we delay aging (by restoring youth) are we not therefore extending one’s health/lifespan? Thus, the meanings of these terms, though somewhat distinct, are in fact entangled and deeply inter-related. Perhaps a second, or preliminary, XPrize challenge should be offered in which the term ‘aging’ is/must be precisely, rationally, defined.

    First Stage Challenge Criteria (theoretical)

    Three (possibly more) finalists (first, second, third places) will be determined at this stage, with a monetary prize pool of 200, 000.00 to be split accordingly (1st receives 100, 000, 2nd place receives 60, 000.00, 3rd receives 40, 000.00 , etc.).

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    Second Stage Criteria (proof-of-principle)

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    Note: a Solver/Team conducting its own original research must agree to a time limit of the duration of said research. For example, experiments using murine models – whose lifespans are normally two years – would be the upper practical limit for this challenge. Other animal models, such as nematodes and fruit flies, may be more appropriate for this proof-of-principle stage of the challenge. Otherwise, the challenge duration (from theoretical to evidential stages) would last far too long. Positive results in this time-constrained stage could likely lead to larger (reduction-to-practice) trials in the future – possibly in a Third (and final) Stage of this challenge

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    *Lifespan: the equivalent of 5 or more years in mice – whose normal lifespans are two years – or the equivalent in any appropriate animal or organoid models. Delayed Aging: the equivalent of 1 or more years in mice or an appropriate animal/organoid model. Demonstration of efficacy in more than one model would be the ideal outcome and a benchmark for prize winners.

    Note: There should be a distinction made between providing a treatment or intervention (in the form of a formulation or recipe) which must be continually taken and an actual cure in which a health ‘end point’ is achieved’ requiring no more usage (or only occasional boosters) of the formulation.

    Third Stage Criteria (?) - The Elixir!

    A monetary award of at least 1, 000, 000.00 shall be awarded (a larger monetary prize pool may be needed if more than one strong contender emerges from the Second Stage).

    Note: A hypothetical Third Stage, if inaugurated, would necessarily involve a demonstration of the formulation’s efficacy (e.g., increasing expected lifespan by 10 or more years) ) as an intervention in an already elderly cohort (i.e., subjects at the average lifespan age, in whichever country, with clear/agreed to health indicators/metrics in all members of the cohort, and validated data, as results).

    Viva la Vida!

    End Note: This proposed XPrize derives from (or applies to) Breakthroughs 5 (The Age-Reversed Animal), 6 (Aging Delayed), 7 (Homeostasis Restored), and 10 (Aging Arrested) listed in the Future of Longevity Impact Roadmap

    Correction: In the next to last Note, the efficacy example should be ‘increasing lifespan by** 5 or more years**’ – a far more practical target for a time-limited challenge.

    Clarification: the term ‘healthspan’ should be included along with ‘lifespan’ – given agreed upon metric(s), or indicator(s), of healthspan in the test cohort.