For centuries the mystery surrounding life and death has baffled humanity. In Greek mythology and Indian epics, characters representing good or evil seem eternally locked in the quest for immortality – ‘Amaratva’.
In modern times, scientists are engaged in a somewhat similar quest: decoding the mysteries of aging, a culminating sequel to the end of human life. An Indian high-school student – Lakshya – has now joined scientists at premier research institutes of the country to develop drugs and treatments that can slow down if not totally halt the process of aging among human beings.
The long and short of it all is, Lakshya tells The Statesman in a tête-à-tête over the telephone from his Gurgaon residence, “I wish to unlock the processes that cause aging. In other words, it means how to prolong youthfulness. The longer you stay younger will entail you stay stronger longer to overcome factors that cause aging – in this case, ‘senescent cells’ which cause age-related diseases and death.”
A student of Delhi Public School, sector 45, Gurgaon, and preparing for 12th standard exams coming March this year, Lakshya explains, “The magic lies in treating certain senescent cells in our body. This will help in curing about 15-20 age-related diseases such as osteoporosis (weakening of bones), osteoarthritis (loss of cartilage), sarcopenia (loss of muscle mass), loss of vision, hearing loss, and other diseases with just one single ‘Sanjeevni booti’- Senolytic drug.”
A senolytic is among a class of small molecules under basic research to determine if they can selectively induce the death of senescent cells (senescence is the process of becoming old or growth phase in a living species from full maturity to death) and improve health in humans. A goal of the research in the field is to discover or develop agents to delay, prevent, alleviate, or reverse age-related diseases.
Much of Lakshaya’s energies are currently focused on finding an appropriate Senolytic drug and a cancer curing medicine. In fact, his search for finding a solution to halt aging began with the unfortunate death of his grandmother due to cancer.
“I was in agony about her (Grandmother’s) loss. I did not want to lose my parents to any ailments or old age. I wanted the presence of my mother and my father till I am alive. Living without them would seem meaningless to me. I, therefore, decided to read about how I can increase the number of years that they can live and make sure that they don’t suffer from any ailments in their old age and could not see them impaired,” says the young budding scientist who wishes to pursue a Ph.D. in the field of aging.
Acknowledging his prowess in research works and his past works at various well-known research centers of the country, the IIT Delhi has invited Lakshya to join their drug development research as a ‘wet-lab intern’ for a couple of months. “I hope to make some progress in the field of Senolytic Drugs that can be tested on humans,” he says, visibly happy over the prospect of joining scientists at the IIT Delhi.
For all his research works at such a young age, Lakshya has earned kudos from the scientist fraternity across the country. He has worked with professors at top Indian research institutes such as IIT Delhi, IIT Mumbai, IIT Ropar, IIT Jammu, Research and Development (R&D) heads at Solvay (an international chemical company founded in 1863), BASF (a German multinational). “Solvay and BASF have appreciated my work in the field of Cellular Senescence,” says the young researcher.
Impressed by his research acumen, ‘excellent problem-solving ability’, and critical analytical ability, a scientist at the country’s premier defence research organisation – DRDO- Sanjay Pal said, “He is among the very few individuals at the high school level who have picked up interest in the field of research by collaborating with professors and searchers and heads of different Indian institutions.”
The young researcher’s father Sanjay Sharma, employed with a corporate house, gives much of the credit of spotting Lakshya’s talent in his early childhood to his mother Dr Aparna Sharma. “His initial research papers were spotted by a couple of professors which made him contact them,” Sanjay said.
Professor Manoj Kashyap, an associate professor at the Stem Cell Institute who has done his Phd from Johns Hopkins University in the US in cancer biology, said, “ Lakshya’s research efforts are commendable and well-worthful in comparison with post-graduate students. I am sure he will be one of the most promising and enterprising scientists that can give back to our nation.”
Explaining the significance of his research works, Lakshya said according to a World Economic Forum estimate in 2014, India is projected to spend about Rs 3, 22, 98, 912 crore till 2030 in fighting non-communicable diseases generally associated with aging of senior citizens. This spending is expected to be twice the size of India’s GDP.
According to Lakshya if one can get rid of the age-enhancing senescent cells once in a year then the country can get rid of all these age-related diseases. This will also greatly bring down the government spending in treating these diseases resulting in the saving of crores of rupees, he said.