Latimer: Will medicine be able to beat death?

Capital News columnist cites study on impact of vitamin nicotinamide riboside to restore body's ability to regenerate and repair itself.

A desire for an elixir of youth, a guarantee against aging or decline has always been part of the human story.

We are captivated by fables of people who mysteriously defy nature and we spend billions on products claiming to keep us young, healthy and vigorous.

Of course, most of us also know the quest is futile. Ultimately, as Chaucer wrote, “time and tide wait for no man.” In spite of our yearning, we all continue to age and eventually decline and die.

Yet we continue in our striving – two new medical studies are working at delaying or even reversing that process. The first is a study published recently in Science, which found the vitamin nicotinamide riboside (NR) restores the body’s ability to regenerate and repair itself.

This study examined the effects of NR on the muscles of elderly mice. NR is close to vitamin B3 and a precursor of NAD, which is important in the activity of the mitochondria of cells and which declines as we age.

Researchers found muscular regeneration was much better in mice given NR and they also lived longer than other mice. Even at high doses, there also appear to be no negative side effects associated with NR.

Nor surprisingly, this finding is considered a breakthrough in regenerative science and points to potential for encouraging the body’s ability to self-repair with the aid of a dietary supplement. It could also be helpful in certain fatal and degenerative conditions such as muscular dystrophy. Much more research will be necessary to further examine NR and its potential.

A second line of research currently getting underway in India and the U.S. involves regenerating cells in the brains of people who have experienced a traumatic brain stem injury and are considered dead.

In this study, scientists will administer a combination of therapies including injecting the brain with stem cells and peptides as well as using lasers and nerve stimulation to attempt to encourage regeneration in the central nervous systems of those declared brain dead but being kept alive on life support.

Based on surrounding tissue and examples within the animal kingdom, scientists believe brain stem cells may be able to restart.

While this sounds like science fiction – the thought of being able to bring the dead back to life –  researchers believe it could be possible in these circumstances when even though there is little brain activity, the body is able to continue circulating blood, excrete waste, balance hormones and even gestate a child.

Other scientists have cautioned that though we have demonstrated in recent years the human brain and nervous system may not be as irreparable as once thought, it is still very far fetched to assume that death could be easily reversed given our current abilities and understanding of neuroscience.

Still, this research may prove very valuable in saving parts or working to reverse non-fatal brain injuries. It certainly moves us further forward in our understanding of the human brain, its function and ability to heal.

It will be very interesting to follow this research and see what new avenues it opens up.

Paul Latimer is a psychiatrist and president of Okanagan Clinical Trials.

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dr@okanaganclinicaltrials.com