Aging Science is probably a misnomer. The field of Aging Science, if it can be called that, seems to be dismissed by the average scientist – and, sadly, many who plow fields here are thought to be quacks – people marketing magic potions and miracle cures.
Putting this cultural bias aside, a better truth seems to be that “aging” is actually a collection of highly specialized areas of biology, very specific age-related diseases, and a variety of issues related to healthy aging.
This post explores some of the issues, some of the people out there who are evangelizing the field, and some of the science that sustains them:
==================== Issue #1 – Biology of Aging =========
Genomes (Human Genome)
Theories of Aging
Telomeres and Telomerase
Biomarkers of Aging
==================== Issue #2 – Diseases of Aging =========
Age-related Macular Degeneration
==================== Issue #3 – Healthy Aging =========
Sadly, there is much cynicism out there when it comes to nutrition. One reason why: The Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) was a 15-year project involving 161,808 women aged 50 to 79. WHI caused many women (and men, for that matter) to question the value of maintaining a healthful diet.
Nonetheless, most physicians and nutritionists still emphasize the importance of keeping your daily fare rich in vegetables, fruit, and whole grains and spare in processed sugar and saturated fats.
==================== Issue #4 – Progress =========
Apparently, the average human age advances about 1-2 years per decade.
==================== People: Aubrey de Grey =========
Aubrey de Grey is a bearded Brit. He took a $15 million inheritance from his mother – 15 years ago – and decided to plow it into the anti-aging field. Many new outlets have given him an audience over these years, including 60 Minutes and TED. I personally am not clear on what he has to show for this 15 year investment of his time:
Aubrey de Grey theories about RHR and LEV:
RHR is Robust Human Rejuvenation
LEV is Longevity Escape Velocity
TedTalk on YouTube here:
TedMed talk here:
Regenerative medicine and gerontology are the two fields
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The “pro-aging trance” is a term coined by Grey to describe “the impulsion to leap to embarrassingly unjustified conclusions in order to put the horror of aging out of one’s mind”. According to de Grey, the pro-aging trance or “pro-aging edifice” is a psychological strategy which people use to cope with aging, and which is rooted in the belief that aging is not only immutable and unavoidable, but desirable in some sense, as part of the natural or divine order that should not be perturbed. De Grey refers, in this regard, to the general public’s ambivalence towards aging. For example, he states that SENS research is often misunderstood or misrepresented as likely to lead to prolonging, rather than postponing, the period of decrepitude characteristic of old age — a belief that de Grey calls the “Tithonus error”, in reference to the myth of Tithonus. He describes this “pro-aging” stance as a rational response to the perceived inevitability of aging (compare related ideas and experimental findings in terror management theory). However, de Grey believes that defeating aging is feasible and that the pro-aging trance represents a huge barrier to combating aging.
Funding of SENS Research Foundation
In 2011, de Grey inherited roughly $16.5 million on the death of his mother. Of this he assigned $13 million to fund SENS research, which by 2013 had the effect of roughly doubling the SENS Research Foundation’s yearly budget to $4 million. Other donors who have given millions to the Foundation include investor Peter Thiel. The foundation also has yearly funding drives that have been successful with some significant donors offering matching grants for members of the public who donate.
The seven types of aging damage
Main article: Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence
De Grey proposed the following types of aging damage:
Mutations – in Chromosomes causing cancer due to nuclear mutations/epimutations:
These are changes to the nuclear DNA (nDNA), the molecule that contains our genetic information, or to proteins which bind to the nDNA. Certain mutations can lead to cancer, and, according to de Grey, non-cancerous mutations and epimutations do not contribute to aging within a normal lifespan, so cancer is the only endpoint of these types of damage that must be addressed.
Mutations – in Mitochondria:
Mitochondria are components in our cells that are important for energy production. They contain their own genetic material, and mutations to their DNA can affect a cell’s ability to function properly. Indirectly, these mutations may accelerate many aspects of aging.
Junk – inside of cells, aka intracellular aggregates:
Our cells are constantly breaking down proteins and other molecules that are no longer useful or which can be harmful. Those molecules which can’t be digested simply accumulate as junk inside our cells. Atherosclerosis, macular degeneration and all kinds of neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s disease) are associated with this problem.
Junk – outside of cells, aka extracellular aggregates:
Harmful junk protein can also accumulate outside of our cells. The amyloid senile plaque seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients is one example.
Cells – too few, aka cellular loss:
Some of the cells in our bodies cannot be replaced, or can only be replaced very slowly – more slowly than they die. This decrease in cell number causes the heart to become weaker with age, and it also causes Parkinson’s disease and impairs the immune system.
Cells – too many, aka Cell senescence:
This is a phenomenon where the cells are no longer able to divide, but also do not die and let others divide. They may also do other things that they’re not supposed to, like secreting proteins that could be harmful. Cell senescence has been proposed as cause or consequence of type 2 diabetes. Immune senescence is also caused by this.
Extracellular protein crosslinks:
Cells are held together by special linking proteins. When too many cross-links form between cells in a tissue, the tissue can lose its elasticity and cause problems including arteriosclerosis and presbyopia.
References on Aging Science:
American Federation for Aging Research and their “InfoAging Series”
Biology of Aging
NIH’s National Institute for Aging: http://www.nia.nih.gov
Report on six types of disabilities and frequency among older Americans: NIH NIA on Disabilities
Report on Screening Tools and Technologies: NIH on Screening Tools and Technologies
List of all screening tests: Screening Tools List
Kuslansky G, Buschke H, Katz M, et al . Screening for Alzheimer’s disease: the Memory Impairment Screen versus the Conventional Three-Word Memory Test. J Am Geriatr Soc 2002;50:1086-91. – See more at: http://www.nia.nih.gov/research/cognitive-instrument/three-word-recall-three-word-memory-test#sthash.ewEmCsZ6.dpuf
Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York
Brian K. Kennedy, CEO of the California-based Buck Institute for Research on Aging