Above: Image © AdrianHillman, iStockPhoto.com
In this crazy and unpredictable world, the one thing you can rely on is aging. Whether you like it or not, every day you become slightly older than you were yesterday. Everything ages, even that apple you forgot to take out of your backpack!
After humans and animals hit puberty, their physical and cognitive (mental) abilities gradually decline. Their chances of getting numerous diseases and ultimately dying increases the older they get, too. That’s why scientists are particularly interested in research that can possibly be used to prolong human lives.
Are you someone who would like to live a really long time? If so, you’re in luck. In recent years, there have been quite a few exciting discoveries that may someday be used increase your lifespan! Let’s learn about some of them.
The life-prolonging technique that has been most thoroughly researched is blood transfusions . Scientists joined the circulatory system of an old mouse to that of a young mouse. They found that this “young” blood made the old mouse’s organs stronger. Scientists think that the tissues of the old mice are regaining functions that they may have lost through the process of aging. In other words, the “young” blood is reversing some of the effects of aging!
Can scientists do this in humans? Not exactly. There are some serious ethical questions about where the “young blood” would come from. But studies like these give scientists insight about different ways to rejuvenate organs as they age.
Improving the immune system
Another technique that could help humans live longer is improving the immune system. Like many parts of your body, your immune system is also less effective as you get older. That’s why older people are more likely to get sick from common illnesses such as the flu or pneumonia. The number of deaths from influenza increase steadily with age. Between 1990 and 1999, 3484 people older than 65 died of the flu. Meanwhile, during that same time, only 155 people aged 50-64 died of the flu.
One pharmaceutical compound called everolimus has been shown to improve the effectiveness of the flu shot in people older than 65. It does this by inducing higher levels of antibodies in the subjects’ blood. Antibodies are molecules in your blood that attack foreign invaders and help keep you from getting sick.
Another technique with anti-aging effects involves targeting senescent cells. These are cells in the body that continue to live but have stopped dividing. Typically, when cells divide, pieces of DNA on the ends of chromosomes called telomeres get shorter. This is okay, because telomeres don’t actually code for any useful DNA. However, after many rounds of replication, telomeres become very short. At that point, cells may become senescent.
The older you get, the more senescent cells you have. Research has shown that these cells release chemicals that can harm the cells surrounding them. For example, in an experiment, researchers gave a drug that targets senescent cells to a group of mice.The drug caused the senescent cells to self-destruct. Researchers compared these mice to a control group (mice that did not get the drug). The mice that got this drug had healthier kidney function, better fur coats and more energy than the control mice.
No cure for aging - yet
But do these treatments actually increase one’s lifespan? Or do they simply make aging animals healthier? Scientists are still researching this question, and it’s an important one to keep in mind. It might seem obvious that healthier organs and body systems naturally lead to longer life spans. But this idea still needs to be verified by future studies.
Did you know? The vascular theory of aging states that older adults are much more at risk for vascular heart disease.
But say we were to discover a drug that really could expand one’s lifespan. For how much longer could this drug expand the average lifetime? By manipulating certain genes, scientists have managed to increase the lifespan of worms by eightfold. Could we see the same effects in humans?
Likely not. Research has shown that more simple organisms, such as worms or yeast, are affected the most by longevity treatments. In humans, it is more likely that we would see much smaller improvements. This is because human genes are more complicated. Also, human health and longevity and can be affected by a variety of different lifestyle factors. Science does tend to advance quickly, though, with new discoveries being made everyday. Who knows, by the time you’re old and wrinkly, 100 may be the new 80!
Did you know? Turritopsis dohrnii, otherwise known as the immortal jellyfish, is able to live forever by transforming itself back into an immature age once it has reached maturity.
Getting rid of senescent cells for healthy aging (2018)
Long Long Life
How do you feel about getting old? (2016)
Let's Talk Science
Why age? Should we end aging forever? (2017)
Kurzgesagt - In a Nutshell
Why we age- and how we can stop it (2012)
Targeted Apoptosis of Senescent Cells Restores Tissue Homeostasis in Response to Chemotoxicity and Aging (2017)
Impairment of an Endothelial NAD + -H 2 S Signaling Network Is a Reversible Cause of Vascular Aging (2018)
Can We Stop Aging (2015)
Influenza-attributable deaths (2007)
Epidemiology and Infection