What if you could increase your lifespan by 30 years? Or 50? Or even stop ageing altogether? What if your body could be fixed up every now and then so it never collapsed on you? If there was a pill you could take to stop your body getting old and weak? If your heart failed, what if you could have a new one made just for you? Or inject cells into yourself so you could rejuvenate from the inside out? What if you could, in effect, cheat death?
The technological leaps that have shaped our modern health are astonishing. From antibiotics to stemcell therapies, our ingenuity and determination to live longer and better lives have dramatically changed human experience over the past century. While the gradual decline of ageing has been seen as inevitable in the past, recent scientific advances suggest that it doesn’t have to be this way. What is the scientific reality of tackling ageing itself?
By uncovering the underlying mechanisms of ageing, we are on the cusp of being able to delay the onset of age-related conditions and confront the causes of degenerative diseases. By targeting the biology of ageing, healthspans and lifespans have already been extended in numerous animal models, with some of the related drugs already in human use.
A new frontier of science is emerging – longevity research, also referred to as geroscience – that is helping us understand the underlying biological mechanisms of how and why we age. In short, the nature and speed of the ageing process, and the aches and pains that accompany it, may not be inevitable.
Researchers have already begun to identify key hallmarks of ageing. Cellular senescence, stem-cell exhaustion and macromolecular dysfunction (telomere shortening and damage to DNA and proteins) – are important components of the overall ageing process. These promising insights have already helped identify molecular targets, and offer hope that the development of treatments to delay, prevent or even reverse the onset of ageing may be within reach in the not-too-distant future.
WEARABLE DEVICES AND ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE WILL ALLOW OUR LIFESTYLE DECISIONS TO BE PERSONALIZED, INCREASING OUR LIFE EXPECTANCY IN HEALTHY CONDITIONS
One of the most promising areas of progress has been the development of senolytics – a class of drug that seeks to specifically target senescent cells. These senescent cells, accumulated as you age, cause localised inflammation and result in the death of healthy neighbouring cells. A number of drugs that aim to eliminate senescent cells have already been developed, including Dasatinib, Quercetin, Fesetin and Navitoclax. In preclinical models, senolytics have been shown to delay or alleviate a variety of age-related conditions. Other drugs, such as metformin are also promising. Originally created to treat type-2 diabetes, metformin has been shown to favourably influence inflammation and cellular senescence, both of which are associated with the development of age-related disease.
Technology may provide part of the solution. Personal markers of ageing are also at the heart of the next generation of wearables, with biomedical data being used to predict the body’s cellular age and biological resilience more accurately. By monitoring sleep, heart rate, movement and other health factors, researchers are now able to offer an assessment of biological age. It is hoped that the volume of data being generated – driven by the decreasing cost of many lifestyle wearables and developments in AI and machine learning – will enable us to receive personalised feedback on the lifestyle choices we make, which will unlock increased healthy life expectancy. Regenerative medicine and tissue engineering advances also offer real possibilities of replacing damaged cells and even whole organs.
Longevity research already offers a real chance to extend the ‘healthy’ portion of people’s lives, but the future is filled with even more transformative possibilities. As advances in our understanding of the biology of ageing, gene therapies, drug discovery and regenerative medicine evolve, it is likely that we will soon be able to accurately track and reduce our biological age, regenerate ageing tissue and prevent cell senescence, potentially enabling us to live longer and healthier lives.