A team of scientists in St Petersburg has developed a new style of the drug from the organs of newborn calves which, they claim, slows down the human ageing process so radically that life expectancy could be increased to 110.
Some senior Kremlin politicians, prominent businessmen, leading footballers and ballerinas have started to make twice-yearly visits to a clinic in one of the city’s up-market suburbs, hoping to prolong their lives with a course of treatment from the former military doctors responsible for the new formula. One of the most popular aspects of the therapy is that there is no need to begin early; on the contrary, doctors claim the best results are achieved among people who start when confronted by symptoms of middle age.
Earlier this year the directors of Gazprom, the gas giant that is Russia’s largest business, signed a contract with the institute to provide the therapy for about 300,000 members of staff in a drive to reduce sick leave and boost employees’ enthusiasm for work. Preliminary results, they claim, are very positive.
The treatment centres on a series of medicines named bioregulators, made from isolated animal organs designed to echo and support the functions of the equivalent organs in humans. Scientists at the institute are particularly excited by the effects of two of their creations – Thymalin and Epitalon – which they say mirror the work of the body’s immune system and hormonal system respectively. By taking these drugs, they claim, patients can rejuvenate the functions of these systems, thus staving off both the ageing process itself and the illnesses which accelerate it.
‘These discoveries are as important as the development of the atomic bomb. It is colossally significant for the whole of mankind,’ declared Vladimir Khavinson, a specialist in gerontology – the study of ageing processes – who is responsible for much of the research. Judging by his huge apartment in an ostentatious new development for St Peterburg’s elite (equipped with a television in every room), his work has proved extremely lucrative.
In a series of tests on mice and rats over 25 years, life expectancy of those animals treated with both drugs increased by between 30 and 45 per cent, and now doctors at the St Petersburg Institute of Bioregulation and Gerontology are confident that the same effect will be seen on humans, allowing them to live healthily well into their second century. They claim that, under this treatment, age-related diseases can be minimised and capacity to reproduce will be extended for men and women.
No independent research has been done to corroborate these claims, but the mere suggestion that the institute may have discovered an elixir which prolongs youth has aroused huge international interest. A team of venture capitalists from Britain (including one of the Rothschilds) is in negotiations to sponsor research as well as the patenting and registering of several preparations.
Pharmaceutical corporations in Germany and the United States are also interested in backing the development of new synthetic versions of the animal-based products. ‘Doctors in the West are very suspicious of medicines developed from the bone stems and inner organs of animals because of the BSE crisis, so we have been forced to work on synthetic copies which are much more acceptable to the Western mentality,’ Khavinson said. ‘These synthetic drugs are the future.’
There is scepticism among those who warn that charlatanism always lies behind such claims. Robert Music, deputy director of the UK charity Research into Ageing, said he would caution against spending money on this kind of drug. ‘As far as we know, it is just not possible to extend human life expectancy like this.’
The unsuspecting original sponsor of the research was Russia’s Ministry of Defence in the early 1970s, when Khavinson and his colleague, Vyacheslav Morozov, were young colonels in a military medical academy. Commissioned to develop ways to help soldiers recover from radiation exposure, chemical poisoning and various injuries, they invented the drugs they now promote as life-expectancy boosters as a way to restore damaged body functions.
‘These kinds of injuries have the same effect as a speeded-up form of ageing. While we were testing the new drugs on rats, we discovered that they simultaneously extended the lives of the animals. The Defence Ministry had no particular interest in developing a drug to prolong life, so we continued our research in secret, but the work would never have been possible without the huge sums of money allocated to us by the government,’ Khavinson said. When the Soviet Union broke up, he set up a private institute.
Visitors to the St Petersburg clinic are confronted by the expensive medical technology of a sophistication unseen in most Russian hospitals. Patients are subjected to DNA testing and presented with a genetic passport determining which diseases they are likely to be susceptible to; on the basis of this test they are given a course of extra bioregulators in addition to the standard immune and hormone system boosters.