X-Message-Number: 989
Date: Tue, 14 Jul 1992 14:38 MST

The following was the headline story in the July 14 Tucson Citizen:

UA Researcher Views Cells, Aging Effect

By Carla McClain, Citizen Staff Writer

      Picture this:
      You pop a pill or you get a shot--and you add 10 healthy,
disease-free years--maybe more--to your normal human lifespan.
      You beat back cancer, you don't get Alzheimer's, your heart
beats on strongly and steadily.
      Sound fantastic? Fountain-of-youth quackery or far-out science
      Wrong. It is the very real possibility emerging from the
pioneering work of an internationally recognized scientist now at
the University of Arizona.
      "My goal is not really to add years to life. What I really
want to do is prolong our _productive_ lifespan, that is, to keep
us healthy and active longer and later in life," said Dr.
Marguerite M. B. Kay, UA Regents professor of microbiology and
      "What bothers me is not how long we live, but the disability,
the ravages that come with old age. That's what I'm after.
      "But it is true that one result may be longer life. That is a
potential side effect of all this."
      The key to keeping human beings hale and hearty to the end of
a longer lifelies, Kay believes, in the basic building blocks of
life--the cells.
      "We are made up of organs, our organs are made up of cells,
and our cells are made up of molecules and membranes," she
explained. "That's where the action is. That's where we have to go
to work."
      It is at that microscopic level that she solved the mystery of
exactly what happens to cells when they age, and are then destroyed
by our immune system.
      In brief, Kay was the first scientist in the world to discover
a specific protein that forms on a cell when it ages. She then
found the immune system antibody that binds to it, marking it for
destruction by the immune system's macrophages.
      That, she revealed to a startled scientific world, is how the
body rids itself of its own damaged and aging cells.
      Her breakthrough work--done in 1975 when she was only 28 years
old--focused on red blood cells, but since has proven to be a
universal process in other cells.
      By understanding the process, she has opened the way for
manipulatijng it--for slowing down or speeding up the aging of our
cells--something Kay already has achieved in the test tube.
      The ability to do that in the human body itself--her aim now--
could mean stunning results: the defeat of our worst old-age
plagues--Alzheimer's disease, cancer, kidney and heart failure--and
the slowing down of our overall aging process.
      "My objective is to control the lifespan of cells," she said.
"If we can do that, we could, for example, preserve neurons to keep
the brain healthy. We could preserve cardiac cells to keep the
heart young. We could use the body to remove its own cancer cells,
without the toxic drugs we have to use today.
      "What we seek is stopping the deterioration of the physiologic
system. It's entirely feasible."
      Kay's work has earned her a slew of scientific achievement
awards worldwide--also a reputation as a courageous and brilliant
      "There are always naysayers about anything that's new, that's
novel, that challenges conventional thinking," she said. "But
everthing I've done is testable. It's been confirmed."
      In most recent years, Kay's research team has been able to
artificially create the protein that marks the aging cell. That
synthetic protein is what will one day be used to control the aging
process in natural human cells in the human body.
      "We are now working on pinpointing the sites on the molecule
where aging damage occurs," she said. "When we do that, we can
start to change things that are going on in there. We can block the
process--Keep cells from aging."
      The billion-dollar question is when Kay's research will
finally reach human beings on their relentless and inevitable march
into old age.
      She believes that could happen within the next five years.
"We're that close scientifically," she said.
      But Kay admits there are formidable obstacles to overcome.
      "Getting this to human trials (testing) will be expensive and
complex," she said. "It's not going to be easy."
      But few doubt she is on the verge of something big in medical
      "This is the hot area in cancer research right now, no doubt
about it," said Dr. David Alberts, a top cancer researcher at the
Arizona Cancer Center.
      "Understanding the cancer process at the cellular level is
what we really want. There is tremendous interest in the whole
field of programmed cell death--trying to trick cancer cells into
thinking they are dying, and Dr. Kay's work is very relevant to
this." END

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