AGE OF DISCOVERY…Westfield physician and medical research authority Dr. Stephen DeFelice holds his ‘drink mix,’ which he believes will reverse the aging process, a subject he approaches in his new novel, “He Made Them Young Again.”
By Michael Joseph Pollack
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times
WESTFIELD ” A bowtied Dr. Stephen DeFelice, 70, energetically places an idea on his chalkboard, draws spokes from one concept to another and occasionally takes a seat to reminisce about Pavarotti or dining with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Whether discussing the Greek logos or the “old Italian neighborhood,” the good doctor does so with a philosophical gusto and an uncharacteristically youthful laugh, which contrasts his professorial speech.
A Westfield physician and recognized world authority on medical research, Dr. DeFelice has made reversing the aging process his top priority after years of research and discovery. He is convinced that reversing the aging process will happen soon, while slowing it down won’t happen for a long time. He recently penned a novel, which brings aging into clear view and explores the benefits and detriments of reversing it.
He admits to thinking about aging in the 1960s and eventually theorized that dying by aging is a disease and, like any other disease, has symptoms that can be remedied.
He tells of a time enjoying martinis in Florida when he noticed a man get up slowly. Dr. DeFelice demonstrates, with full grimace and feebleness, the man’s attempt to stretch his joints and remembers saying to himself, “What is this? This is aging. You can’t define aging. It’s not like diabetes. You can’t biochemically define it.”
What is universal, the doctor noted, is the inexorable deterioration of mental and physical performance due to the loss of body energy.
“That’s where to look for the remedy to aging- to increase body energy,” he said.
He continued: “In those days, they said to me, “Aging is natural, DeFelice. You’re nuts.’ I gave a talk at the Endocrine Society of Philadelphia and they said “it’s (dying) God’s way. You’re gonna die. You can’t do anything about it.’ I said “No, it’s a disease. It’s like anything else. It kills you. What do you think- through the ethers of the universe you die? Something happens in your body.'”
When he started to write his recently published novel “He Made Them Young Again” three years ago, he saw two ways of looking at aging ” slowing it down and reversing it, “or at least the physical and mental deterioration of aging.” He confessed that he “couldn’t figure out how to get energy back in the mitochondria ” what he calls the “furnace of the cell’ ” in a way that made sense. I still hadn’t figured it out until recently, and now it is time to see whether I’m right.”
Dr. DeFelice has coined the term “nutraceuticals,’ which are dietary supplements with a medical or health value. The word now appears in the prestigious Oxford English Dictionary where Dr. DeFelice is credited. One nutraceutical he has studied is carnitine. During the Vietnam War, while working at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR), he conducted animal studies which showed that carnitine reversed myocardial ischemia (lack of oxygen to the heart).
“If you give carnitine to a normal person, nothing happened,” he added. “If I give it to people with carnitine-deficiency states (heart disease, renal dialysis), it works.” Therefore, now Dr. DeFelice is working to, in a sense, create an artificial deficiency. “Let’s create the need in the aging cell where the cell will accept certain nutraceuticals or dietary supplements.”
He theorized that one way to accomplish this is to stimulate cells with substances such as growth hormone and testosterone given along with the nutraceutical formula containing substances such as carnitine and magnesium and antioxidants that are essential in increasing, in a natural way, energy levels in body cells.
Perhaps the novel and studies on aging were destined. On Dr. DeFelice’s 50th birthday celebration, he wrote a poem, which includes these fateful lines:
“Within a few years I will begin my quest/ To reverse the aging process; I do not jest. I have a plan which once initiated,/ Will lead to THE DISCOVERY, which won’t be debated./ Be of good cheer for you shall be the first to try/ My wondrous potion that will prevent youth from going bye-bye.”
The novel examines the repercussions of living longer. Some are positive and some highlight a potential detriment. In one instance, the book shows an old time couple where the husband takes the medicine and the wife won’t. She gets older, he gets younger and this causes serious problems in the marriage. In another instance, 90-year-old doctor who is deteriorating takes it, is feeling good and has his energy back; however, his relatives and parents are dead and he is lost and has nowhere to go.
Many times, the book provides a successful conduit for Dr. DeFelice’s commentary to reach his reading audience. For example, the young idealistic Dr. Giancarlo Avellino expresses, in much the same respect as Dr. DeFelice, disgust with the prevailing culture’s blind spot to clinical research.
Early in the novel, Dr. Avellino tells his colleague that everything from aspirin to bathtubs can lead to an untimely death, “but in the clinical research area, for some perverse reason, we are shocked if anything bad happens”and there’s not an influential soul in our country who is trying to educate people that patients in clinical studies will occasionally be hurt or die, just like people who drive cars.” Dr. DeFelice does his characters justice by providing them with the same level of passion that informs his theories.
Is he worried about critics accusing him of “playing God’ by prolonging lives that would normally be lost? “Does God get in the way of antibiotics?” he questioned. His voice becomes the most stern it will allow: “Aging is a disease with 100 percent mortality. Is God angered that we created insulin and we gave it to diabetics who’d have a certain rendezvous with death? It depends on how you view it. Why is aging different than disease? Who said- God said you can’t do it? There is no God argument that makes sense.”
He adds: “There is no argument that says you can’t reverse and/or prolong life. There’s no moral issue there. There’s a thing called progress. It’s inevitable. I don’t mind, my friend, living longer, having a better mind, having more physical power. I would love it. A Buddhist would love it, an atheist would love it, a Christian would love it. It is good that I stay younger mentally and physically. What’s wrong with that? Let society handle it. We have automobiles. Society accepts that and it causes pollution.” In what he termed a “combination of altruism and selfishness,” he said, “It’s my choice.”
Next for Dr. DeFelice is a Boston University Medical Center study, which he called the “most sophisticated study on age reversal.” He has filed a patent and formed a corporation called Mitochondrial Horizons, LLC. Now what stands between the study becoming a reality is $1.3 million. “If I raise that 1.3 million, I know it’s going to work. I know we can improve mental and physical function. I’m also worried about the potential adverse affects.”
Embedded in the whole argument of life and death is the doctor’s seemingly blasé attitude about his own demise. He maintains that while his work surrounds slowing down the aging process, he’s not afraid of dying. “I don’t want to get old simply because I love life. I have no fear except one. My fear is if there’s a hell,” he laughs.