There have always been people who have feared growing old and the decline in health associated with aging. However, people with these fears may no longer have to worry thanks to TA-65, an anti-aging drug. Isolated from various species of the Astragalus plant, TA-65 (Cycloastragenol) helps prevent aging by activating telomerase, which results in increased telomere length and ensures that cells stay healthy and live on. People have been taking the drug for a while now, and apparently it works pretty well for them. You can listen to some of the testimonials of people taking TA-65 here. But for all the good TA-65 has done for people already, others are very concerned that TA-65 theoretically increases the risk of oncogene-mediated cancer.
The obvious question after hearing TA-65 can theoretically promote cancer is, “how?” TA-65 could induce telomerase activity in cancer cells that would otherwise have undergone apoptosis. TA-65 could also facilitate cancer by inducing telomerase activity in pre-immortal cancers, where telomerase activity is currently not present. Doing this could make otherwise treatable cancers more untreatable by giving pre-immortal cancers the means to become immortal.
Though this risk isn’t fully understood, there are still those who still stand by the product and doubt that TA-65 does anything significant to increase the risk of cancer. One reason TA-65 proponents stand by the drug is the fact that about 85% of cancers express telomerase activity. Therefore, many cancers already become immortal, and taking a telomerase-inducing drug like TA-65 isn’t going to make immortal cancers any more immortal. Moreover, TA-65 is short-lived—if cancer occurred, all one has to do is stop taking TA-65 and their lengthened telomeres will shorten, allowing cancer to be treated without having to take into account any effects of TA-65. There’s also the fact that long telomeres ensure that chromosomes are protected, which lessens the chance of getting cancers that occur when telomeres become too short. Proponents also point out that there is published evidence that Cycloastragenol (the active ingredient in TA-65) has been shown to reactivate telomerase expression in human cells, showing that the drug’s ability to enhance telomerase is not theoretical, unlike claims that TA-65 facilitates cancer.
However, there seems to be as many negative arguments for every positive argument about TA-65. For instance, there is no published evidence proving that TA-65 causes significant extension of telomere length or cell life span. Moreover, the ability of TA-65 to induce telomerase activity could cause cancer by keeping cancer cells caused by oncogene up-regulation alive when they would have otherwise died. As it stands, your immune system is responsible for destroying many cancer-like cells on a daily basis. It’s not crazy to think that TA-65 and its telomerase-inducing effects might help one cancer cell stay alive and develop into full-blown cancer. Telomere length would probably have to be significantly longer for this to happen though, and proponents of telomerase could even use their opponents’ arguments against them by saying TA-65 only lengthens telomeres by a modest amount. As a result, cancer cells would not have significant protection that allows for continued uncontrolled proliferation. However, admitting that TA-65 only lengthens telomeres by a modest amount begs the question of why it is even being used as an anti-aging treatment and calls the drug’s efficacy into question.
Whether TA-65 does or doesn’t cause cancer, there are still many questions that remain. For example, does TA-65 help enough? Many of the initial studies of TA-65 were done in mice. There are large concentration discrepancies between mice and humans when size is taken into account. Are TA-65 concentrations in humans proportional to what they were in mice when researchers obtained results that proved the drug’s worth, and if not, is it safe or even economically feasible to increase the drug’s concentration to these levels? It already costs a little over $9,000 for the first six months of the drug between initial testing and the actual supply. Finally, what if TA-65 does cause cancer? Would the risks of cancer outweigh the anti-aging effects for someone who experiences a noticeably poorer quality of life without the drug?
In closing, TA-65 shows us how there are two sides to every story. It’s fair for TA-65 opponents to suggest that the drug causes cancer, but one must understand that the way it causes cancer is theoretical and hasn’t been proven. Conversely, TA-65 does seem to have some anti-aging effects, but one must remember that pharmaceutical companies put a lot of time and money into developing drugs and will often try to hide side effects or over-exaggerate the product’s efficacy in order to make a profit. No matter what the case though, I’d definitely think twice about using TA-65 if I were given the opportunity.
Andrews, William, and Michael West. "Turning on Immortality: The Debate Over Telomerase Activation." LifeExtension.com. Life Extension Magazine, Aug. 2009. Web. 26 May 2014. <http://www.lef.org/magazine/mag2009/aug2009_Turning-onImmortality-The-Debate-Over-Telomerase-Activation_01.htm>.