A New Era of Aging Research

Using the recent development of killifish as a model organism as a starting point, this popular science article looks at some of the more recent high profile developments in the study of aging. It largely takes the longevity dividend party line of talking about extending healthy life span without extending overall life span, however. This is probably an impossible goal, and not even a desirable goal in comparison to extending both measures, but one that is politically easier to sell for various reasons. So there is no discussion of approaches leading to rejuvenation and the prospects for radical life extension here. This gap in the conversation is a persistent remnant of the recent past in which researchers were very reluctant to talk about or attempt to work on any form of intervention in aging:

Aging is inherently interesting, because we're all doing it. Like it or not, our bodies are slowly winding down as time passes. But what actually happens in our tissues and cells? It's clear that we are subject to a plethora of depressing outcomes, including sagging tissues (hello, wrinkles), reduced cognitive capacity (where did I put my car keys?) and a slowing metabolism that (tragically) favors belly padding over muscle building. Inside our cells, the situation looks even more dire. DNA mutations begin to accumulate, our cells' energy factories begin to wind down, and proteins policing gene expression appear to "forget" how to place the chemical tags on DNA that serve as runway lights for the appropriate production of proteins. The protein production, transportation and degradation network that cells depend on to deliver these molecular workhorses to all parts of the cell at exactly the right times also falls into disarray. Proteins are degraded too soon, or begin to clump together in awkward bundles that interfere with cellular processes. These events have obvious, previously inescapable, outcomes.

"As we age, time becomes compressed and we tend to develop many chronic diseases or health problems simultaneously. Many elderly people are dealing with a constellation of health conditions. We'd like to imagine ways to stretch out the healthy period of our lives, so it comprises more of the totality. This is something we call 'health span,' and it would be tremendously advantageous to stretch out that portion of our lives."

Nationwide, both public and private efforts have been launched to better understand and prolong our golden years. Associated with the growth in funding is an expansion in laboratory research that suggests the possibility of intervening in the aging process and extending the human health span. "It may one day be possible to avoid chronic diseases, living into old age free from dementia, diabetes and heart disease. Our tissues will still age, but we may be able to delay or prevent the onset of the decline in function that comes with passing years. We have high hopes that our research strategy will help move collaborative efforts to the next level. What has come out of our work is a keen understanding that the factors driving aging are highly intertwined and that in order to extend health span we need an integrated approach to health and disease with the understanding that biological systems change with age."

Link: http://stanmed.stanford.edu/2015spring/the-time-of-your-life.html

Comments

You know, it might be a good idea to focus on what's politically easier to sell.

You can't increase healthspan without increasing lifespan. It simply does not make any physical sense. Age is the wearing-down of things; when you fix things, you remove that age.

Therefore, any initiative that's aimed at "increasing healthspan" and doing actual research will inevitably lead to rejuvenative technology, at least to some extent, because it's not possible for it to do otherwise.

Posted by: Slicer at March 26th, 2015 5:00 PM

Why do you think that it is so necessary for scientists to take a stance on a value question like "How long should I live?"? Instead of just doing the research.

Posted by: Louis Burke at March 27th, 2015 4:33 AM

It seems like Killifish have come from nowhere to suddenly be a model organism for aging.

It would be interesting to see if the experiments on removing senescent cells from an admittedly poor mouse model can have the same healthspan extending effects? And perhaps even extend lifespan too?

Posted by: Jim at March 27th, 2015 8:52 AM

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