What if there was an anti-aging drug that could boost the cognitive functions of the brain? That is the question Dr. Dena Dubal began asking when the University of California, San Francisco hired her to study a hormone called klotho. In 2011, Dr. Dubal set up a research lab to discover insights about klotho’s impact on cognitive decline. The results have surprised medical and health professionals, yet have also raised ethical questions.
What Is Klotho?
Klotho is a naturally-occurring protein found in the brain and kidneys, known as the “longevity protein.” It circulates throughout the body as a hormone. Japanese researchers began studying the Klotho gene in mice in 1997. These researchers found that the amount of klotho in mice’s brains may result in them living longer. Other scientists later found that humans who naturally produce more klotho tend to live longer as well.
Klotho Enhances Cognition
In 2011, Dr. Dubal and her colleagues began breeding mice to produce more klotho in their brains. The results were startling:
- Mice with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease that had extra klotho were protected from further cognitive decline.
- Mice that were bred to make more klotho performed better in cognitive tests, such as mazes.
This means that extra klotho doesn’t just prevent or delay cognitive decline – it actually makes the mice smarter. Even young mice were showing evidence of enhanced cognition.
Human Treatments and Ethical Considerations
Now, Dr. Dubal is working with fellow researchers to develop anti-aging treatments for human applications. Despite the potentially ground-breaking medical advancement for treating age-related conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, multiple sclerosis, and Parkinson’s disease, some scientists are worried about the ethical implications of such a treatment.
Klotho skeptics compare it to a performance-enhancing drug, which could give some people an unfair advantage in cognitive performance. However, Dr. Dubal argues that since it can potentially treat life-threatening diseases, it would be unethical not to pursue it.