~ Fate, Vitamins, Hard Work and Aging

Luck, Hard Work Had Roles in Discoveries Two Medical Pioneers Talk About Their Breakthroughs in Heart Treatments and the Study of Aging

Omaha World-Herald, 10-07-05

Two medical pioneers, still working in their late 80s and 90s, talked Wednesday in Omaha about the roles of those four elements during their long careers.

Dr. Michael DeBakey, a 97-year-old, internationally recognized heart surgeon from Texas, told how the fact that a department store had Dacron in stock instead of the nylon he went seeking led to his successful development of grafts to repair aneurysms in the early 1950s. Such grafts are part of standard treatment today.

A colleague in Indiana, he said, went looking for material about the same time but had the bad luck to find nylon, DeBakey said. It didn't work.

"Fate or chance does play a role in your life sometimes," said DeBakey, chancellor emeritus of the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and chairman of the Foundation for Biomedical Research.

DeBakey was at the University of Nebraska Medical Center to give a lecture named for Dr. Denham Harman, 89, professor emeritus of internal medicine and father of the free radical theory of aging.

DeBakey and Harman spoke at a press conference before DeBakey's lecture to a standing-room-only audience in the Durham Research Center's 319-seat auditorium.

DeBakey also is known for helping to develop the mobile Army surgical hospitals popularly known as MASH units and for being one of two scientists in the 1930s to link the rise in lung cancer to cigarette smoking. He went on to develop a host of medical devices, including a roller pump now used in heart-lung machines, which helped launch the era of openheart surgery.

He said he initially developed the pump for use in giving blood transfusions when there were no blood banks. Today, his name is on a new ventricular assist device, now in clinical trials, that is one- tenth the size of the most popular device now used to help hearts pump. The new device is a product of research and development by DeBakey, a Baylor colleague and NASA engineers.

Harman described the twists and turns that brought him to theorize that aging is caused by free radicals, molecules produced in the normal course of life that damage cells and tissues. The theory was dismissed when Harman proposed it in the 1950s. But it has become widely accepted in the past two decades, as has his work demonstrating how antioxidants counter free radicals.

He recommends taking vitamins and antioxidants to slow free- radical production, specifically vitamins C and E, coenzyme Q-10 and beta carotene.

Both men believe in being active and continuing to work long after the age when most people retire.

"I think it's important as you grow older to maintain an intellectual challenge," DeBakey said.

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