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Life Extension Magazine

LE Magazine October 1999

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Oil-Seeker To Youth-Finder
Geron Corporation Co-Founder Miller Quarles on Exercise, Lifestyle and Telomeres

quartz collector As a highly accomplished geophysicist, Miller Quarles had a knack for finding exactly which spots in the dusty Texas plains hid lucrative oil producing wells beneath the surface. Now, soon to be 85, he's set his divining rod on a new quest-locating the Fountain of Youth, or finding a cure for old age. And, he thinks he's getting close.

"I hope to see that day within the next five years, but it could happen as early as one year," he says, adding that it might not come in time to give him the extra 50 or 100 years he'd like. "Why should humans have to die of old age? We can die of other things."

Curing old age has been an obsession for Quarles ever since 1990 when he read a Time magazine story about efforts to map human genes and wondered why the technique wasn't being used to isolate and "cure" the gene responsible for aging. Indeed, he began realizing how few steps in general were being taken to combat the disease of old age. The more he railed against the injustice of aging-and society's seeming acceptance of it as an inescapable fact-the more willing he became to spur the scientific community forward. He dipped into his ample oil earnings to offer a $100,000 prize to any individual or organization that found a genetic cure for aging by January 1, 2000. (He's also given an annual $10,000 since 1996 for the best contribution to speeding the cure for aging.) The "Quarles Prize" earned its originator a reputation as something of a crackpot. But, fewer people are laughing now.

That's because research is starting to prove him right. In 1990, Quarles met Michael West, a top cell biologist from Dallas, and together the two formed the Geron Corporation with the goal of extending the average human life span to 150 years. After a flurry of press coverage attracted additional investors to the company, it relocated to California, added a slew of expert scientists and formed partnerships with several pharmaceutical companies and research universities. Significant research findings soon followed. Geron developed the telomere theory of aging, which holds that a string of material at the ends of the DNA molecules of all animals and plants determines the age limit of that particular species. Every time a cell divides and the DNA replicates, it uses up a bit more of that string, the telomere, until there's nothing left. That's when old age sets in and death approaches.

"An old cell has a short string and a young cell has a very long string," Quarles explains. "So we just have to add to that string so it won't give out, and that's what [Geron scientists] have done and that's the cure. They know how to add to that string-and that will actually reverse aging too. We'll be able to exchange old cells for young cells."

(Though still a major shareholder in Geron, Quarles has somewhat distanced himself from the company now that its new management is stressing a mission to fight against the "diseases of aging" rather than to cure old age. Michael West also left Geron to become CEO of a new company, Advanced Cell Technology, in which Quarles is an investor.)

The same year that Geron was getting off the ground, Quarles also launched the Cure Old Age Disease Society (COADS), a Houston-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to raising money for life extension research. COADS, whose mailings ask members if they'd "Care to live an extra 100 years?" has grown from an early membership of 40 people to more than 500 today.

Though Quarles was born with a passion for exercise and fitness, his interest in health really soared when he was a college student at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. There he took a class taught by world-renowned scientist, humanitarian and health proponent Linus Pauling, who later peeked Quarles' interest in Vitamins C and E, Beta-Carotene, and CoQ10 of which he began taking daily. (Quarles and Pauling, a two-time Nobel Prize winner, later became friends.) But it wasn't until he turned 40, in 1954, that he really began his battle against aging. "I think you can live any way you want to live up to age 40," he says. "But then you've got to be more careful."

Being careful for Quarles means getting plenty of exercise, never smoking, drinking or overeating, and taking plenty of supplements. His age-defying list includes equal doses-both morning and afternoon-of the antioxidant Vitamin C, L-Lysine to encourage life extension, Super B Complex, Cognitex as a brain enhancer, Life Extension Mix, and Mega-Soy Extract and Perilla Oil to put helpful oils into his system. He also starts his day with CoQ10, Beta-Carotene and Chromium Picolinate to help fight muscle wear and tear. Two capsules of Life Extension Booster Formula help him capture critical nutrients and he also takes a chewable combination Zinc/Manganese tablet every morning. Other morning vitamins and food supplements include Vitamin D3, Ginkgo Biloba to keep his mind sharp, Green Tea Extract Capsules as a way to fight an assortment of degenerative diseases, Acetyl-l-Carnitine, and Vinpocetine to enhance brain metabolism and memory function.

Quarles ends his day with 340 mg of Vitamin E, which he takes for its antioxidant properties, half an Ascriptin tablet, Melatonin both as an antioxidant and to promote a good night's sleep, Saw Palmetto for a healthy prostate, and six capsules of Bone Assure for maximum bone protection. Once a week Quarles makes sure to get 100 mcg of Vitamin K1 and he uses Echinacea as an immune system booster for three months in a row, then takes three months off. He prefers capsules to tablets and is always open to expanding or altering his daily regime according to new discoveries. "I'll add anything that looks important," he says.

As for exercise, Quarles is an avid tennis player, who rarely misses a day on the court. "I don't let much interfere with my exercise-it's a very high priority," says Houston's reigning singles and doubles champion for the 85- to 90-year-old division. (He took home those same titles in 1998 and 1997.) He decided to learn karate at age 52, earning a green belt in just one and a half years, but ended up losing so much weight and sustaining so many bangs and scrapes that his wife finally made him quit. He's since relegated his karate kicks, punches and defensive moves to a once weekly session where he incorporates them into a complete muscle workout.

He keeps his diet simple, sticking to the same three-cereal mix of bran, high fiber and shredded wheat with skim milk and fresh strawberries, bananas and peaches every morning. Fish and fresh fruits and vegetables are daily staples, but red meat is almost never on the menu. The 5'11", 165 pound Quarles excludes all fats from his diet, noting that calorie restriction has been proven to keep people living longer.

An avid reader, Quarles is usually up by 6 a.m. to get an early start on the many newspapers and magazines to which he subscribes. With both a bachelors and masters degree from Cal Tech, Quarles finds he favors scientific journals, such as Scientific American, Science News and Astronomy. And he still finds time to continue his work in geology and geophysics, working as a consultant for a geophysical contracting company in Houston. During his long career in geology he has searched the globe for oil-even dining with Golda Meir once during a stint in Israel-making many significant finds. He's also traveled extensively through Latin America, giving lectures on geology in Argentina, Peru and Mexico. Among his many scholarly papers and presentations was an award-winning paper on the proper fault interpretations necessary for finding oil traps.

Though he has much to be proud of when he looks back on his life, Quarles is happiest thinking about what lies ahead. "I just love my life," he says. "I get so excited over everything I see and all the new things-the miracles-that are happening in the world. I sit here in my house and realize there are 10,000 magnetic waves going through the atmosphere from all directions and some genius figured that out and made a machine [a computer] that uses them to extract pictures and information from every part of the world. I want to stay around to see what the next advancements are going to be."
-Twig Mowatt

In late news: Quarles was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. He plans to work with Life Extension Foundation on treatment options and expects a full recovery.