The Grandparents of tomorrow

Topics: Gerontology, Senescence, Aging Pages: 5 (1697 words) Published: November 20, 2013
The Grandparents of Tomorrow

Why die? There may soon be nothing preventing great-grandparents from being as agile in body and mind as their descendants are.
Sections
Can Aging Be Cured?
Shaping Up for Long Life
A World without Aging
Keywords: ageing, biogerontology, geriatrics, gerontology, immortality, life-extension, old age, rejuvenation

Imagine that your grandmother looks like a teenager, plays soccer, parties at the clubs all night, and works as a venture capitalist. Or imagine your grandfather teaching you the latest high-tech computer software in his office, which you hate to visit because of the loud heavy metal music. Such a scenario is hard to envision because we are taught to accept aging and the resulting suffering and death as an immutable fact of life. We cannot picture our grandparents in better physical shape than we are. Nonetheless, aging may one day become nothing more than a scary bedtime story, perhaps one your grandfather will tell your grandson after a day of white-water rafting together. Can Aging Be Cured?

Aging is a "barbaric phenomenon that shouldn't be tolerated in polite society," says University of Cambridge gerontologist Aubrey de Grey. However, the more than 50% increase in longevity of the past century was due mainly to advancements in the war on infectious diseases, not aging. Present anti-aging treatments do not slow the aging process and do not extend lifespan more than quitting smoking, exercising, eating a good diet, or heeding ordinary medical advice. The only way to achieve another 50% increase in human longevity is by discovering ways to retard the aging process itself. Although human aging remains a largely mysterious process, and scientists still debate why we age, there are reasons to think human aging can be manipulated, maybe even cured like a disease. Not only some animals live much longer than humans--recent estimates that bowhead whales may live over 200 years are a good example--but several higher animals appear not to age. None are mammals, though, but examples include vertebrates such as certain turtles that do not show signs of aging even after decades of study. While the reasons behind the apparent absence of aging in these species remain a subject of debate, they show how Nature has already devised ways to make animals live much longer and age slower than humans. Like the Wright brothers and other early flight pioneers conducted detailed observations of birds and were inspired by them, so can we be inspired by how aging is much

slower, and maybe even absent, in certain animals. Now the challenge for biomedical research is to do the same in humans.
In recent years, many advances in anti-aging science have been made at the cellular level. Normal human cells have a built-in program that prevents them from replicating more than a predetermined number of times. Using the enzyme telomerase, it is possible to genetically modify human cells to overcome their programming and make them divide indefinitely. Drugs targeting telomerase are also being developed, even though telomerase alone does not solve the aging problem: Mice genetically modified to produce lots of this enzyme do not live longer. Still, as detailed elsewhere, telomerase and similar findings observed in simple model organisms like yeast showcase that aging at the cellular level can be stopped.

Genetic engineering can more than triple the longevity of worms and increase by almost 50% the lifespan of flies. Results are also promising in mammals: Scientists have extended longevity in mice by up to 50% through genetic interventions. If such outcomes could be achieved in humans, then it would come to be normal to have grandparents more than 120 years old. Several companies and academic research groups are conducting research aimed at retarding aging by targeting genes and pathways shown in model organisms to regulate aging. If the breakthroughs of recent years are anything to go by, it is likely that...
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