Anti-ageing medicine has long been about making the body look younger, but what about making the body biologically younger? Too good to be true? Well, thanks to years of research into telomeres and telomerase activation, it could now be a possibility.
At the forefront of this technology is Noel Patton, Founder of T.A. Sciences and one of the technology’s biggest advocates. Noel is happy to explain how the complex science works and the role he and T.A. Sciences have played in bringing a unique anti-ageing product to market.
It begins with telomeres, stretches of DNA that sit at the ends of each of the 46 chromosomes present in every cell. Chromosomes are linear pieces of DNA and the telomeres sit at either end, making 92 telomeres present in each cell. Noel describes them as being like the plastic tips on the ends of shoelaces, preventing the chromosomes becoming damaged. Each time a cell divides, the chromosomes are duplicated in order for the same genetic information to be passed to every new cell. During this process, telomeres lose base pairs of DNA and become shorter. This shortening of telomeres continues each time the cell divides, a process that occurs throughout a person’s life. Telomeres can be seen as an ageing clock, the shorter the telomeres, the older the cell. When a few telomeres become too short, a cell can no longer divide and the cell reaches replicative senescence, which can then result in the onset of various conditions associated with old age.
Research suggests that the shortening of telomeres is a risk factor for diseases such as COPD, macular degeneration, and pulmonary fibrosis, as well as being directly related to cells reaching the Hayflick Limit (i.e. the total number of times a cell can replicate). If scientists could find a way to prevent the shortening of telomeres, they could slow down the onset of old age and its associated conditions.
Noel explains there are only two known ways to slow down the shortening of telomeres; the first is to follow a healthy lifestyle: to exercise, cut down on alcohol, and eat a healthy diet. The second thing would be to take a product that directly activates telomerase.
‘Telomeres are like a burning fuse, the fuse is lit at conception and keeps burning down your whole life, but if you can lengthen the fuse, the explosion will be postponed. In this case, the explosion is when the cell reaches a crisis, becomes senescent, or sends itself into apoptosis and dies.’
Noel tells me this ‘lengthening’ can be achieved through telomerase activation. Telomerase is an enzyme produced in cells and, when activated, can add base pairs of DNA back onto telomeres, making them longer again. This is important as the longer the telomere, the more the cell can divide before it reaches senescence and dies.
Increasing the number of times a cell can divide is not the only benefit of increasing the length of its telomeres. As you age and your telomeres shorten, they signal changes in gene expression in your cells, turning some genes on and others off. It is these changes in gene expression that induces the effects of ageing.
‘People have the same DNA they had when they were young, but it is the genes expressed that have changed. By increasing the length of your telomeres, it changes the gene expression of your cell to a younger phenotype, meaning your cell now expresses the genes of a younger cell. This means you can keep yourself healthy for longer.’ Noel explains.
‘The purpose of telomerase biology is to slow down and possibly reverse the ageing process. When people talk about anti-ageing, people are talking about looking younger, a facelift, a breast implant. None of those things make you younger, inside you’re still ageing and that’s what really counts. Telomere biology is about increasing your health-span, the number of years you can live healthily and enjoy life.’
Despite all the complex science involved, Noel himself is no scientist. A graduate of Indiana University (1969) with an Honors Degree in Philosophy, Noel furthered his studies on the East Coast and is an alumnus of the Harvard Business School. In 1972, he went on to purchase and run the appliance manufacturing business, Patton Electric Company, which his father started in 1945. He sold the company in 1995, after running it successfully for over 20 years. This led to Noel having more time to pursue other interests.
‘When I turned 50 two things happened: I sold my business, and I noticed I was getting older,’ he continues. ‘I started feeling the aches and pains and the things that make you notice you’re not as young as you used to be. So I got interested in anti-ageing medicine for myself — I wanted to see if I could extend my health span and slow down the ageing process.’
It was while pursuing this interest in anti-ageing medicine that Noel heard Professor Jerry Shay from the University of Texas give a speech at an event in 1999 on the properties of telomerase and telomere biology. Professor Shay explained that in a laboratory setting, cells could be kept alive forever if telomerase was activated to prevent the telomeres from shortening. Noel spoke to Professor Shay after his speech, eager to find out where he could get his hands on some telomerase. It was then he learned the University of Texas had licensed all their patents to the Geron corporation.
‘The very next day I called the CEO, flew out to see him and ended up investing in the Geron corporation. I ended up being on the scene, because of my investment, a year or two later, when they discovered what we now call TA-65.’
From there Noel moved quickly to ensure he could capitalise on the discovery.
‘I negotiated with the Geron corporation and licensed this technology from them for nutritional supplements because they weren’t going to do anything with it,’ he explains. ‘They were only interested in drugs, nutritional supplements you might say were beneath them, it was not something they were interested in. Well I said, ‘I’ve had consumer marketing experience and I think I could do something with it.’ That was 10 years ago I got the license.’
Noel and T.A Sciences spent the next few years conducting safety tests and putting money into research and development on how to extract TA-65 from the medicinal plant Astragalus membranaceus. It took almost 5 years to develop a way they could refine and process the TA-65 molecule into pill form. For nearly 6 years, T.A. Sciences has been selling TA-65 through licensee doctors. These doctors are educated and tested on TA-65 before they are allowed to sell to patients.
So what next for T.A. Sciences? It is clear Noel is certainly happy with how far T.A. Sciences have come.
‘We’re accepted in both the medical and scientific fields as the leader in telomerase activation and the science itself recognises that telomerase activation is necessary to lengthen telomeres,’ he says.
It is no wonder, then, that Noel is already working on new TA-65 based products for the future; there are currently plans for a topical skin cream containing TA-65 that he hopes will rejuvenate the skin, a product people could use on their pets to improve their health spans, and they have acquired a license from Geron to develop an approved drug for the prevention of pulmonary fibrosis.
With all developments ongoing, T.A. Sciences has had to hire new staff to manage the extra work and move into larger offices in New York to accommodate their expanding operation.
While he has faced sceptics, those who questioned the science behind TA-65 and his own credentials in this field of science, Noel is optimistic about the future, even more so as the company has started posting profits after years of ploughing money into research and development. He is also happy with the work he is doing.
‘I’m so excited to be achieving what I set out to do, which was to increase my own health span and my loved ones and friends, and I now have the sense of accomplishment that we’re helping tens of thousands of people to do the same thing,’ he explains.
‘I can sleep pretty well at night feeling that I’ve been successful here in a business venture, and I am doing good for mankind and my own friends and family. ‘