The Strange Science Articles That Find Their Way Here From Russia

It has to be said, the dusty articles arriving at this end of the virtual silk road of journalism that links the laboratories of Russia with the English-speaking internet are a strange looking bunch. Odd customs, an impenetrable accent, an oftimes ferocious disregard for the need to fit into a particular clade (such as, say, journalism versus outright fiction), and delicate technical matters mangled and spiced three and a half times in as many languages by non-technical editors - all this is par for the course.

The enthusiasm for life extension shines on through wherever it is mentioned, however, and there's a certain charm to that. Just as for the Life Extension Foundation and A4M closer to home, it's hard to savage their activities quite as much as they deserve, given the degree to which the hearts and intentions of the founders are in the right place. Savage we must, however. The future of science belongs to those who avoid the backwaters and seductive, flashy sideroads of little progress - those who understand the likely value of their work and its place in the infrastructure. Grandiose exaggeration and focus to the point of self-defeat need not apply.

A good rule of thumb is to leave an article well alone if it was published in the English language edition of a Russian outlet. There might indeed be some science of note at the far end of the silk road, somewhere, but like as not you'll never know for sure.

By way of contrast, here's an example from the English language section of a German publication (and so perhaps only translated twice over from the Russian ... ) in which it is possible to pick out the science and its relevance to progress in healthy life extension research. All the rest of the warning signs are there in force, however, so sit back and enjoy the ambiance:

It seems that if researchers strive to cancel the ageing program, they should start acting at the genome level. Such experiments are already being carried out: researchers have found the gene, switching off of which prolongs the life of the nematode worm and the laboratory mouse. But “we do not want to interfere in the human genome, because this can cause unexpected consequences”, says V.P. Skulachev. The researchers decided to interfere not in the program itself, but in its execution at the very early stage. At this stage, aging is connected with accumulation of free radicals in the organism, this taking place initially in the mitochondrion - a power substation of a cell. The SkQ substance synthesized in the course of the research, acts as a very efficient antioxidant, which is fighting against free radical oxygen at the mitochondria level.

Hundreds of antioxidants are already being applied in the world, but not all of them are efficient as they get quickly destroyed. The peculiarity of a new substance is that the so-called “Skulachev’s ion” (the name was given by foreign colleagues) is part of it, the ion penetrating through the cell’s membrane and accumulating inside mitochondria thanks to its positive charge (the charge inside the mitochondrion is negative). This ion “drags” behind itself the proper antioxidant part. The result is that the substance saves mitochondria’s lipids from oxidation.

The SkQ influence on the life span was studied in experiments on mice. Laboratory mice were given to drink “life-giving water” with SkQ, the substance being contained in this water in nanodoses (5 nanomoles). The life time of such mice increased by one third on average as compared to that of the reference group mice. Even more demonstrative are experiments with mutant rats, where accelerated ageing - progeria - was observed. SkQ prolonged their life span by three times, besides, it cured them from a large number of senile diseases. They include infarctions, strokes, osteoporosis, hemogram abnomality, reproductive system disorders, behavior change, visual impairment.


It remains only to wish the researchers good luck in continuation of their effort, and the entire humanity - to obtain in the future if not immortality but the extension of active life.

Those of you following along at home will hopefully recognize this as a parallel path to research reported a year ago in the US in which production of the antioxidant catalase was enhanced in mice via gene therapy; it was shown that only when applied to mitochondria did it extend healthy life span:

The catalase soaks up some portion of free radicals before they can attack your vulnerable mitochondrial DNA. Damage to this [DNA] leads to an unfortunate chain of events that causes entire cells to rabidly produce damaging free radicals and export them throughout the body. But stop a fraction of the original mitochondrial free radicals from attacking their birthplace, and you have slowed the rate at which one cause of aging happens - you have slowed down aging, and extended healthy life.

Instead of gene therapy, Skulachev's group has found a viable biochemical strategy for effectively localizing ingested antioxidants in the mitochondria; clever. Of course, the proof is in scientific publication, peer review, and so forth. Unless I am much mistaken, here is the item in question at PubMed:

Lipophilic monocations can pass through phospholipid bilayers and accumulate in negatively-charged compartments such as the mitochondrial matrix, driven by the membrane potential. This property is used to visualize mitochondria, to deliver therapeutic molecules to mitochondria and to measure the membrane potential.

I'll leave the non-technical readers to mull over which report they prefer.

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