Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Telomere shortening and cosmetic creams (cancer and aging, part 2)

I have read in betterhumans that there is some interest in making cosmetic creams that would avoid telomer shortening, or that may be able to recover shortened telomeres in skin cells.

Well, I do believe that there is a high probability of a company going bust if the only thing it can offer is a cosmetic cream based in telomer repair/maintenance.

Telomer shortening is not some disgusting process that Satan put into our bodies to make them age and die. Telomer shortening is a life saving device that prevents aberrant cells to go out of control.

If we remove this control without doing anything else, we will elevate enormously the frequency of malignancies. For sure we will have better wound healing, and this may reflect a niche market for that product, but the price (in terms of health risk) would be too high for being used as a cosmetic cream.

The telomerase problem is a very good example of the delicate processes that are running silently inside us. We are the product of many cycles of evolutionary refinement. We are sat on a nice hill of the fitness landscape. Of course, we are not in the absolute maximum, neither we are in any of the many local maxima that represent highly desired situations (e.g., we don't grow limbs when we get the original severed). But we are in a local maximum, so we should keep in mind that most single target interventions (which are quick fixes, no matter which technology is involved) were probably tried and discarded by the blind watchmaker many years ago.

I am very optimistic about our future prospects as a species, and I do believe that our generation has a chance to reap enormous rewards from the technologies that are emerging, but things are far more difficult to get done than what it seems by reading press releases of cash hungry startups.


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