Bringing longevity into the public eye is not an easy thing. There exist many misconceptions about aging, like that aging is way too complex to do something about it, or that aging can at best be slowed down.
Therefore, when bringing up the notion of addressing aging, the following things also often need to be discussed.
1. The notion that aging can be partially reversed. Many people (including MDs and scientists) think that aging at best can be slowed down. Recent studies, however, show that aging can be partially reversed, making old animals younger again. Addressing aging is not just about slowing down aging, but about actually reversing it.
2. Give people a framework. Aging is complex, but it helps if people can boil it down to a few simple rules, like the hallmarks of aging (see for example this seminal paper explaining some hallmarks of aging).
3. Tackling aging scares many people. It conjures up things like overpopulation, the emergence of a biological aristocracy that has the means to rejuvenate itself, and so on. However, it's important to realize that addressing aging is the best way to address dozens of aging-related diseases at the same time, like heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, and so on. Tackling aging is not about immortality (or amortality), but about healthy aging, living longer in the best possible health, tackling dozens of aging-related diseases simultaneously by addressing their root cause, and more.
During my talks, I often ask the audience the following question: "How much longer do you think life expectancy would be if we could cure all heart disease, the most important cause of death in most countries?" The answer: only about 2.8 years longer. This because if people don’t die anymore of heart disease, they will die a few years later of another aging-related disease. Therefore, it’s paramount to tackle aging itself.
4. Address the “I don’t want to become 150 years old if I have to sit in a wheelchair for 70 years” misconception many people have. When people are asked whether they want to live to 150 years, most people will say "no" because they think that they will suffer from frailty and debilitating diseases for many decades. However, if you ask the question: "Do you want to become 150 years old and still look like a thirty-something?", many more people would want to become that “old”. Recent research shows that it possible, at least in lab animals, to partially reverse aging.
Addressing aging is the best and most powerful way to substantially reduce the risk of dozens of aging-related diseases, and to substantially improve the health of people. By addressing aging, many diseases are tackled at the root cause, instead of just reducing their symptoms (a bit), or just tweaking at some downstream mechanisms of a disease. Addressing aging has the potential to truly impact and change medicine forever.
Producing stem cells from other persons would be a major step forward.
Usually, stem cells are made from cells from your own body. Taking a cell from your body, like a skin cell, and converting it into a stem cell is a time-consuming and very expensive process.
However, if you could use ready-made stem cells derived from other people, this would hasten the process considerably. You can pick prepared stem cells from the shelf and immediately implant them.
Also, these stem cells could be acquired from young people, so that these stem cells are also younger and less damaged. This is very interesting, because mostly elderly people would need stem cell treatments and creating stem cells from their already aged cells yields stem cells of lower quality compared to stem cells extracted from young people.
The Nobel prize winner Shinya Yamanaka is setting up a stem cell bank with stem cells of other people, tweaking specific receptors on the stem cells (HLA receptors), so that these stem cells won’t be rejected by a considerable part of the population.
Such stem cells could be produced in large quantities, can be of better quality when derived from a young person and would be immediately available, which would all entail huge advantages.
In the future, new technologies like CRISPR-cas 9 will allow scientist to tweak stem cells even more, giving them all kinds of new qualities, like evading rejection by the host, being more powerful, specific or versatile, among other things.
Source: Scientific American
Progeria is often called a disease of accelerated aging. Patients mostly die of a heart attack at age 13, looking frail and old with bald heads, a wrinkled skin, a beaked nose, tin lips and tired looking eyes. It’s a very rare disease, afflicting about 1 in 8 million people. The official medical name is Hutchinson-Gilford syndrome.
However, some scientists believe that progeria isn’t in fact a disease of accelerated aging. They consider progeria a disease that resembles aging, but that isn’t really like the aging process itself.
After all, progeria doesn’t exhibit all the symptoms of the classic aging process. Patients with progeria don’t seem to have an increased risk of other typical age-related diseases, like dementia, cancer, cataract, diabetes, a declining immune system, increased cholesterol and triglycerides (fats), deteriorating eyesight or hearing loss.
Why then does progeria looks so similar to the aging process itself? This is probably because the final result of progeria is in some way the same as the aging process: massive loss of cells. As well as in progeria as in aging, cells everywhere in the body die and the final result of this massive cell die off is that the body looks old and frail.
In progeria, cells massively die because of extensive DNA damage. A malfunctioning protein in the nucleus of the cell makes the nucleus (that stores the DNA) unstable. This contorted and twisted nucleus damages the DNA inside it and causes the cell to die.
In aging, cells everywhere in the body also die, but this because of other ways of damage than only DNA damage. As we age, cells get damaged by protein agglomeration, advanced glycation end products, continuous growth signals, clogged up lysosomes and malfunctioning mitochondria, inevitably resulting in cells succumbing everywhere in our body, making our tissues and organs frail and weak.
So it’s possible that progeria isn’t really an aging disease, but a syndrome that only bears resemblance with the aging process. The same goes for other seemingly ‘accelerated aging diseases’, like Werners syndrome or Cockayne syndrome, which also mainly involve DNA damage.
While many people look at progeria and other progeria-like diseases as evidence that aging mainly involves DNA damage, those diseases in fact show that the aging process involves much more than only DNA damage.
Author: Kris Verburgh, MD
Picture: The Cell Nucleus and Aging: Tantalizing Clues and Hopeful Promises. PLoS Biology Vol. 3/11/2005. Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Generic license.