Medical Professor Discusses Plausibility of Detective Conan's De-Aging Drug
posted on by Kim Morrissy
In the Detective Conan anime and manga series, protagonist Shinichi Kudo transforms into a child due to a mysterious de-aging drug called APTX 4869. This has always seemed like a fantastical premise, but a Livedoor News journalist sat down with professor Shigeomi Shimizu, who researches cell biology at the Tokyo Medical and Dental University, to discuss the science behind the fictional drug.
Shimizu did not shoot down the possibility that a drug like APTX 4869 could be created. He explained that normally, billions of cells die everyday in a process known as apoptosis. As this process is repeated the telomeres in the chromosomes get shorter, which is linked to the body's age. Because Shinichi was almost an adult at the time he took the drug, the cells in his body would naturally have stopped dividing. By taking the drug, the mature cells would have been killed off and replaced with cells that can telomorase like the cells within a child's body. In other words, a de-aging drug would have have to accelerate apoptosis and increase the length of telomeres within the body. There is already plenty of research in apoptosis, and scientists are already able to decrease the size of cells to a certain degree.
However, even if the drug manages to kill the mature cells and make the human body smaller, the bone tissue needs to be broken down and the bone structure needs to be reassembled. This could be achieved by making the osteoclasts active. Also, in order for Shinichi's mind to retain its adult consciousness, the drug would have to not reach his brain, although Shimizu noted that it's quite common for medicines not to reach the brain anyway, as the brain's blood vessels have barriers in them to protect the brain.
Shimizu noted that although it is theoretically possible to create a drug like APTX 4689, it would have to perform all of its tasks with perfect timing in order to be effective. Thus, he concluded that it would be "very difficult" to create the drug in real life. However, he did not discount the possibility that it could be done in the future. Shimizu noted that there is already research into anti-aging, and that as long as the process doesn't involve a complete restructuring of a human's cellular and skeletal structure, it's not so unrealistic to create a way for the body turn back time on a small scale.
As for whether Shinichi could regain his adult body, Shimizu said that this was a lot harder, to the extent that it's practically impossible within the current understanding of the human body, due to the law of the conservation of mass. The difficulty of Shinichi regaining his adult body is reflected in the manga as well; on the few occasions he achieves it, the effect is only temporary. However, from a scientific point of view, it's the most implausible part of the manga.
On the other hand, there's nothing stopping Shinichi from aging up naturally back to his old self with the passage of time. It may be possible to create a way to accelerate the aging of his child body, as accelerating aging has been observed to be a genetic condition in some people.
Shimizu praised the level of scientific research that went into Detective Conan, noting that apoptosis was not well known in the public in 1994, the year the manga began serialization. General awareness first spread around 1996, and the manga's more detailed explanation about the science behind the APTX 4689 first appeared in a chapter published in 1997. The interviewer noted that the forensic methods depicted in the manga have also been updated as the series has progressed. Creator Gosho Aoyama's younger brother is a doctor, and the two shared many conversations in preparation for the manga's serialization.
It should be noted that one area where the manga is not particularly accurate is when it comes to Shinichi/Conan's stun gun and the anesthetics portrayed in the series. A physician said that a shot from the stun gun would probably kill detective Kogoro Mouri, if not immediately then almost certainly over time.