Here at In the Loop, we love a good story about folks defying the laws of aging, maintaining their health and active lifestyles. In fact, we’ve had a nice run of those stories lately. These stories give us hope, while at the same time make us wonder what we can do to age so well. According to a recent story by U.S. News & World Report's Katherine Hobson, science may someday be able to do it for us.
Scientists are exploring the relationship between aging and diseases like cancer, heart disease and Alzheimer's — a field known as geroscience. Hobson writes that these researchers are trying to determine whether our body's aging process can be slowed by manipulating "the same cellular processes" that make aging happen in the first place. "The goal," she writes, "is not to extend lifespan” (though, she notes, “that may indeed happen"). Instead, the goal is to extend our "healthspan," or the number of years our bodies stay "healthy and active."
One of the primary processes being looked at, Hobson writes, is inflammation. Specifically, the "low-grade, chronic systemic inflammation in the absence of an infection" that "is a factor in most age-related diseases." And while the direct causes aren't yet well known, scientists "are investigating possible contributors, including a state called cellular senescence." And that's where James Kirkland, M.D., Ph.D., director of Mayo Clinic's Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging in Rochester, comes in.
Normally, when our cells suffer "mutations or other damaging disruptions," these defects are either self-repaired or the cells die, Hobson writes. There are times, however, when neither happens. Instead, the cells "slip into a kind of twilight zone, no longer dividing but not dying, either." These "senescent cells," Dr. Kirkland tells Hobson, can not only produce "pro-inflammatory proteins" that can damage other cells, but are also "strongly associated with diseases of aging like cancer, atherosclerosis, diabetes and dementia." (We’re getting the sense these senescent cells are not our friends.)
That's why Dr. Kirkland and others at Mayo Clinic are researching what might happen if these senescent cells are removed from our bodies. "In mice, they've shown that certain drugs called senolytics can do just that — and slow the progression of age-related changes and even partially reverse them," Hobson writes. In another study, published last year, Dr. Kirkland's research team found "that a commercially available cancer drug and the supplement quercetin, an antioxidant, improved cardiovascular function, exercise endurance and osteoporosis, plus increased healthspan when used together," Hobson explains.
While encouraging, Dr. Kirkland and others say "it's not yet clear" whether these same benefits will "carry over" to humans. But, "since aging is a process that seems to happen similarly across species," Hobson writes, scientists are "cautiously optimistic" about that happening over time.
You can read Hobson's fully story here. Then, let us know what you think by sharing your comments below. You also can use the social media tools to share this story with others.