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Merchants of Immortality: Chasing the Dream…
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Merchants of Immortality: Chasing the Dream of Human Life Extension

by Stephen S. Hall

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Profiles and shenanigans of major figures in the aging-research arena. Telomeres, longevity genes, stem cells, politics, clone-o-phobia.
  fpagan | Dec 19, 2006 |
So, when will stem cells come into widespread medical use? If you answer twenty years from now, you'd be wrong by about 60 years--they first became widely used in the 1960's! Only they were called "bone marrow transplants." Today thousands of them are done every year.

Hall has written a dozen so excellent books on medicine, biotechnology and molecular biology, and this is one of the best. Here he recounts the development of the idea that aging in humans can be scientifically understood and modified. He starts off with the wonderful story of the Hayflick limit with an account of his first interview with him and brings this maverick character to life. How often are the big ideas discovered by rogues and rebels--fearless men?

He covers a very wide swath of current developments in the cutting edge of biology and medicine--telomeres, stem cells, transplants, cloning, and aging--all told in enough depth that you can't help but learn something, even if you are pretty well informed. The history, the personalities, and the ideas are all here.

One thing I appreciated is that Hall makes no pretense about being disinterested in the subject--he takes some of it personally, and is not afraid to relate what his gut is telling him. He is partisan in the best sense of the word. He unflinchingly challenges the idealistic "bioethicists" who have lately ejected such nonsense into the public space, pretending to a certainty only a bishop could appreciate.

Hall also relates in some detail the evolution of the stem cell/cloning debate that has resulted in the policy that federal money can go to research only on the 70 embryonic stem cell lines already in existence, now known to be more like 6. And none of them suitable for therapeutic for humans because they are grown on a substrate of mouse cells and their viruses. The yokels and theologians have managed to set back this important avenue for improving human health by who knows how many decades... Sad to think we'll be looking for progress to the South Koreans, who recently generated human embryonic cell lines by nuclear transfer. Americans have yet to duplicate this

The quality of Hall's prose, and the nature of the subject itself, conspire to produce a book that I found very hard to put down. A terrific read! ( )
  DonSiano | Oct 20, 2006 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618095241, Hardcover)

An award-winning writer explores science's boldest frontier - extension of the human life span - with the researchers and entrepreneurs who are racing to create medicines that will allow us to live longer and better.
Aging, cancer, stem cells, cloning - the themes of Merchants of Immortality are the stuff of today's headlines, yet they reflect some of humankind's most ancient hopes and fears. Stephen S. Hall delves behind the headlines to reveal just how close scientists are to fulfilling hopes of longer, healthier lives. Merchants of Immortality tackles profound social questions: How close are we to cloning humans? Can stem cell therapies tame illnesses such as heart attacks, Parkinson's disease, and diabetes? How long might our children live?
Hall's account of life-extension research is as dramatic as it is authoritative. The story follows a close-knit but fractious band of scientists and entrepreneurs who work in the shadowy area between profit and the public good. Hall tracks the science of aging back to its father figure, the iconoclastic Leonard Hayflick, who was the first to show that cells age and whose epic legal battles with the federal government cleared the path for today's biotech visionaries. Chief among those is the charismatic Michael West, a former creationist who founded the first biotech company devoted to aging research. West has won both ardent admirers and committed foes in his relentless quest to promote stem cells, therapeutic cloning, and other technologies of "practical immortality." Merchants of Immortality breathes scintillating life into the most momentous science of our day, assesses the political and bioethical controversies it has spawned, and explores its potentially dramatic effect on the length and quality of our lives.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:58:59 -0400)

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