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Fountain of Youth?

Billion-Dollar Anti-Aging Industry Offers New Treatments — But Are They Safe?

By Jackie Judd

May 30, 2003


— Will Dunkak, 51, of Long Island, N.Y., is about to become a father again. He said he needs to be "extra fit" to deal with the rigors of a newborn and see her through her formative years.


So Dunkak agreed to be a case study for the provocatively named Anti-Aging Medicine Associates in New York City. The clinic offers controversial treatments such as injections of human growth hormone and testosterone cream that are supposed to reduce fat, boost muscle mass, and improve memory.


"If you put all of those together, then in a sense we can reverse the aging process," said Dr. Joseph Raffaele, cofounder of the clinic.


That enticing claim — reverse aging — has helped create a billion-dollar industry. Clients pay about $1,500 for an exam and up to $1,000 a month for treatments.


Not Everyone Is Convinced

Many scientists say people are throwing their money away. Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois was so alarmed by these claims that he helped collect the signatures of four dozen other scientists and geriatric experts for a paper condemning the movement.


"There has been nothing that has been demonstrated so far to reverse aging or to stop aging," Olshansky told ABCNEWS.


The goal may not only be elusive but dangerous, experts say. There are no long-term studies on the consequences of using human growth hormone. Initial tests show it may cause diabetes and carpal tunnel syndrome.


Longevity centers are scattered across the country. Some offer more traditional advice — like diet and regular exercise — at a high price.


Sam Penza, 60, went to the Princeton Longevity Center in New Jersey in search of better health and a longer life. "This is like no other doctors office I have ever been in," he said.


Penza was examined top to bottom, inside and out, massaged and cleansed, all for $2,200. He is 60 years old, but was told, at the end of the physical, he could get the body of a 52-year-old if he followed the clinic's regimen.


"There's a lot you can do to make sure you really get your full 80, 90, 100 years, whatever your potential may be," said Dr. David Fein, the founder of the Princeton Longevity Center.


Experts say more promising developments in extending life may come from pharmaceutical labs like Elixir in Boston, where work is underway on a drug controlling cell damage that occurs over a lifetime.


"By regulating how cells respond to that damage, we're able to in fact make cells live longer and we believe eventually make humans live longer," said Elixir CEO Dr. Edward Cannon. "That may be 10 years off — if ever."


In the meantime, Will Dunkak hopes his remedies keep him around to see his unborn child grow up — and maybe even grow old.  


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