Did A Russian Scientist Really ‘Cure Aging’ or Is It Just a Fluke?

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Skulachev claims his super anti-oxidant compound could help humans live healthier for longer.

Imagine a pill that you could take every day that would extend your by years and keep you healthy for longer. You'd probably pay a lot for such a pill. Vladimir Skulachev looks like he is getting close to selling it to you. The global media has been a flutter with Skulachev's recent announcement that he has developed a 'cure for aging'. The Russian biochemist is the head of the Bioenergetics Department at Moscow State University and has been working on the problem of aging for 40 years. His cure is an anti-oxidant that he claims extends median lifespan and (if you'll believe it) removed a cataract from his eye. We've seen some extraordinary claims in the last few years but a single substance that 'cures aging' seems almost impossible. Watch the video below to see Skulachev partially explain his work. It will be amazing if this development turns out to be even close to true.

First off, we should probably address whether or not this is a hoax. As far as I can tell, it is not. Skulachev has a long history of publications, many of which are heavily cited by other scientists. He holds a real position at a well respected university. He came up with, or at least coined, the Programmed-Aging Theory, which proposes that aging developed because it has evolutionary advantages. He's also garnered the respect of noted biochemist and Nobel Laureate Gunter Blobel, as you can see at 1:08 in the video.

So, if it's not a hoax...is it actually good science? There things get trickier. Skulachev hasn't directly announced the formula for his 'cure for aging' compound. It is likely a derivative (or reproduction) of an earlier anti-oxidant substance called SKQ1. In earlier work Skulachev showed that SKQ1 could penetrate into mitochondria and affect oxidants (most antioxidants, including the ones in your health supplements, do not enter mitochondria in dose amounts). He and his colleagues then demonstrated that SKQ1 could extend the lives of fungus, crustaceans, insects, and mice. The latter is the most exciting, and Skulachev's team claims to have extended median lifespan by 100% (the average mouse life was twice as long). All that's well and good, but I've yet to see evidence that anyone has replicated Skulachev's work, in mice or other animals. There's always the possibility that these life extensions were statistical anamolies or the effect of uncontrolled factors.

Because Skulachev's publications don't show mice living greatly exaggerated lives, they show a population of mice who's average lifespan was extended. Look at page 1336 of the report (page 8 of the PDF) to see what I mean. In other words, it's not that SKQ1 would let you live to 200, it's that it could help more people live to 100. The average would increase dramatically, not the maximum. Skulachev reports, however, that age-related ailments and impairments were seen less often in the SKQ1 mice. So maybe those years up to 100 would be healthier as well.

At best then, Skulachev's SKQ1 wouldn't be a 'cure for aging' but a means for all of us to age well. That may not be how the media hypes it, but I think that's the better interpretation. Still, 'cure' or not, getting everyone to stay healthy into their advanced years (and helping everyone reach their advanced years) would be pretty damn cool.

Skulachev's work continues. His anti-oxidant compounds (not sure if this means a new formula or just SKQ1) are being tested in Russia on humans in clinical trials, but as a treatment for glaucoma. I've no idea how a mitochondrial penetrating anti-oxidant compound is supposed to cure glaucoma, but there you go. As it would be very hard to test for life extension, such trials are probably only going to confirm safety for the compound. And, of course, whether or not they can cure glaucoma.

Hold on, I just want to take a reality check here. Anti-oxidants that cure glaucoma? That sounds really weird. Most treatments are based on relieving pressure, and some experiments are being done for drugs that affect bloodflow...but antioxidants? These sort of panacea claims don't lend credence to Skulachev's work as a whole.

Still, I can't dismiss the signs that the biochemist has found a powerful way to fight the symptoms of aging. Honestly I don't really want to. Those who read our coverage of the Methuselah Foundation know that many longevity researchers believe the path to longevity is going to require a complex approach. We've seen some single genes that might extend lifespan, but most techniques look to require multiple avenues of attack. Skulachev's concept of a single substance to combat aging stands out. And in more ways than one. Most longevity researchers focus on either healing damage or extending maximum lifespan. Extending median lifespan, as Skulachev's research shows, is a truly remarkable accomplishment especially if it preserves health at the same time. Imagine a world where everyone can live to 90 and feel healthy right up until they die. It's an impressive possibility...if it turns out to be true.

[screen capture and video credit: Russia Today]
[source: Russia Today, Antonenko et al 2007 and Anismov et al 2008 in Biokhimiya]

Discussion — 29 Responses

  • RandomQuestionGuy September 21, 2010 on 5:57 pm

    But what if the anti-aging pill is taken while in the early stages of pregnancy? Would the baby be effected in any way, and would we know about it after it is too late?

  • Jordan September 21, 2010 on 6:58 pm

    “imagine a world where everyone can live to 90 and feel healthy right up until they die”

    – if we are healthy right up until we die, why would we need to die?

  • Raul September 21, 2010 on 7:16 pm

    Read an opinion paper on Nature magazine from November 2005 named:Programmed and altruistic ageing one of the authors is this russian scientist from de video (P. Skulachev). So yes his theory of programed ageing it’s a very serious research line.

  • Shadyguy1 September 21, 2010 on 9:54 pm

    You haven’t followed the last 10 or so years of research about anti-oxidants have you? Many scientists believe that oxidation (and by extension antioxidants) is at the root of many common ailments that have no direct relation to the issue.

  • Guest September 21, 2010 on 10:07 pm

    I don’t buy this story for even one second. I don’t like how the news reporter seems to be hyping the holy hell out of this trial. Look at how many clinical trials there have been around the world, and what portion of them succeed. And even when they succeed, how many of those treatments were truly groundbreaking? And guess what, those failed trials were backed by serious scientists who genuinely believed in their science too — seriously enough to pony up 100’s of millions of dollars from their investors. I wish the researcher the very best luck, but I won’t hold my breath.

  • Guest September 22, 2010 on 1:10 am

    It actually the curing of the damage done ‘oxygen combustion’ in metabolism, but if you a fan of Aubrey de Gray’s SENS program ( which Vladimir Skulachev I believe, is on the board of directors, I’m not totally sure though) then this is only 1 out of the 7 causes of aging, you still need to get the other 6 to truly cure aging. But its a nice start if true

  • why September 22, 2010 on 4:26 am

    the way this world is ….who the hell would want to live longer?

    • Seth why September 22, 2010 on 11:12 am


    • anonymous why September 25, 2010 on 9:19 am

      I wouldn’t mind living a couple thousand years.

      • Timgray anonymous September 27, 2010 on 7:31 pm

        I plan to liver forever……
        So far so good!

  • Udo Schroeter September 22, 2010 on 1:09 pm

    I don’t get the hoax/bad science distinction. Yes, it’s a hoax. Of course it’s bad science. That guy has been researching the area for years and now at the end of his career he wants to make at least a tiny little splash before bowing out. In Russia, the world central of tall tales… Who can blame him? He probably knows very well that in the time of Pravda, The Sun, and Fox News, you can get away with anything when it comes to (or against) science.

    “Department of Bioenergetics”? Is that even a real thing? Various antioxidants have been known for years in context with cell chemistry, this isn’t even new. While externally supplied antioxidants can indeed help against some of the damage a cell experiences over time, the actual mechanisms of aging are far too complex to be simply “turned off” by some bullshit miracle ointment. And by the way, if you want to supplement your diet with a pretty good antioxidant, it’s called Resveratrol and you can buy it right now. It works (within limits), too, which is probably more than one can say for this guys snake oil.

    What saddens me most is not the ignorant media circus that can be so easily conjured up by shady crackpots, it’s how severely the shenanigans of types like Skulachev hurt the credibility REAL anti-aging research.

  • AlexSF September 24, 2010 on 9:16 pm

    Read more (58 min interview with Skulachev) on http://vladimirpozner.ru/?p=3088

  • Down ToEarth September 26, 2010 on 7:18 am

    Hi, I just want to point out this person is not cited by any colleagues, even if this person has an incredible record of papers publish by himself or edited by himself or his impressive titles. Practically it means this person doesn’t really belong to the scientific community. http://dblp.uni-trier.de/search/author?author=Skulachev

    • Guest Down ToEarth September 26, 2010 on 2:18 pm

      Um, DBLP is only for computer science. (In the FAQ, it states that “The DBLP server provides bibliographic information on major computer science journals and proceedings”.)

    • Guest Down ToEarth September 28, 2010 on 4:11 pm
      • Down ToEarth Guest September 29, 2010 on 2:12 pm

        I didn’t found a case where he was cited by some else than by himself in the 3/4 first pages but I am sure you will find several cases where he is cited by relevant people 😉

        • Guest Down ToEarth September 29, 2010 on 7:22 pm

          The google scholar search returns the articles he authored. You have to pick an article, and click “cited by” to see a list of citations. Few of those are his.

  • wealthychef September 26, 2010 on 11:49 pm

    @Guest: Remember that de Gray’s longevity escape velocity postulates that extending life by some number of years, and he guesses 30, will be enough to have people living essentially forever, barring mishap, violence, etc. So solving 1 out of 7 might be enough, as it will certainly ramp up interest in the subject and give enough brilliant people enough time to get #2. And once #2 is finished, #3 will be that much more likely…. etc.

  • kenkc September 28, 2010 on 7:19 pm

    It seems to me there has been an amazing lack of buzz about this story. It’s not like Skulachev
    is some crackpot. He is a very respected scientist and his announcement has received positive
    (if not enthusiastic) reviews from the scientific community. I don’t expect to drop by my local drug store to pick up a pack of immortality in 2012. But even the naysayers seem mute about this news item.

  • jim September 30, 2010 on 11:43 pm

    SQ1 derivatives miraculously extend fruit fly lifespan by maybe a couple of percent. Depending on the strain of mouse used, it’s easy to extend its average lifespan (but not maximum lifespan) with such antioxidants.
    There’s nothing to see here. Move along, move along.

  • Dfe October 3, 2010 on 9:38 am

    While looking at him, he could use a ton.

  • Douglas October 4, 2010 on 4:40 am

    In the past few years, eye drops containing acetyl-carnosine have been used by several thousands cataract patients across the world. The drops are believed to work by reducing oxidation and glycation damage in the lens, particularly reducing crystallin cross-linking.[37][38] Randomized controlled trials indicate the drops may be especially appropriate for seniors, or others where surgery is not advised.[39]

    From Wikipedia, may explain why it works on cataracts.

  • Tal Tamir October 23, 2010 on 6:28 am

    anti oxidant? anti oxidants are extremely important to your health, but any anti oxidant will do (you do not need a blend of them). The most common anti oxidant for human consumption is vitamin C.Also, it is utterly impossible for it to be a cure for aging, since aging is the incremental failure of body systems for a plethora of reasons (the cure for aging is to cure every single chronic disease in existence… individually)And if we are perfectly healthy, why would we die at age 90? people don’t just drop dead, they die due to a reason, always.When someone puts “died due to old age” they mean to say “the person was old, and had to many chronic illnesses it is impossible to determine which one specifically killed him/her”. If all your chronic diseases are cured, you will not die of old age…PS. an anti oxidant cannot cure a cataract.

  • Austin December 31, 2010 on 11:30 pm

    This science already exist. The anti-oxidant is Glutathione and a doctor by the name Dr. Robert Keller has already developed the science to deliver the anti-oxidant to the mitochondria. Check out http://www.themaxalliance.max4u.com

  • cataracts of the eye January 26, 2011 on 3:46 pm

    From the recent information, it has been recorded that the cost of the cataract surgery procedure is about 3,363 USD for every eye if you are paying for your own self. Then if you choose to have a more high technology lens, the cost of procedure can go up to 4,010 USD for every eye procedure.

  • anti aging supplements January 27, 2011 on 5:47 pm

    Well I was just searching on Google and just came across your site, generally I just visit sits and retrieve my required information but this time the useful information that you posted in this post compelled me to reply here and appreciate your good work. I just bookmarked your site.

  • Matt Rings February 18, 2011 on 11:56 am

    Could it be treating “cataract” and not “glaucoma”… the former *might* benefit from anti-oxidant scavenging, but low chance of success, or we’d be using it for seniors who are poor surgical candidates (emphysema, severe cardiac disease, spine disease)

  • rundreamachieve June 15, 2014 on 4:40 pm

    This is an outstanding article and I will be sharing this with my own readers. Few people know about glutathione, an antioxidant produced by every cell in the body. It slows down the aging process. I am sure Dr. Skulachev knows about it as well and integrated it within his research. GREAT article nonetheless.
    Nathan http://www.rundreamachieve.com