The class of immortal masters: how science and business try to conquer aging
Since the beginning of the XXI century, the average world life expectancy has increased by 5,5 years to 72, and in about two dozen countries has already exceeded the 80-year threshold. By 2050, the number of centenarians older than 80 in the world is expected to more than triple in the world - there will be 447 millions. But the maximum age of people still rarely exceeds 115 years. Many scientists and businessmen are trying to overcome this limit, defeating aging and the diseases associated with it. Others seek to come up with ways to stay healthy for as long as possible with age.
Present Tense studied what they do and what they do not.
Young blood - $ 8000 per liter
In late February, the US drug and food market regulator warned US residents against buying blood plasma of young people from 16 to 24 years to “fight aging”. Following this, the startup Ambrosia Health closed, which transfused plasma of young people over 30 years old - at $ 8000 per liter. Just two years ago, founder Jesse Karmazin argued, “It works. It stops aging, ”although there was no scientific evidence for the claims, despite the success of similar studies in mice.
The cost of the transfusion procedure at Ambrosia was relatively small compared to how much large funds and rich people spend on similar startups. Huge money is poured into research to defeat aging and death. Millionaires spend fortunes on special medical procedures that - according to their beliefs - will allow them to stay healthy longer.
“Since I’m a billionaire, I’ll have access to better healthcare, so… I’ll be, say, 160, and I’ll become part of that, um, class of immortal overlords,” said Sean Parker, entrepreneur and first president of Facebook in 2017 ...
So far, science-proven miraculous ways of extending a person’s life — even for big money — have not appeared.
Maybe science has managed to manipulate genes to make a person a long-liver? Indeed, scientists think that by about a quarter of the differences in the life expectancy of people are determined by genetics, but it is not yet clear which genes or their combinations are involved.
Researchers continue to study the genotypes of supercenteners and see that several variations that confer longevity appear to be related to the APOE, FOXO3, and CETP genes. But this is not observed in all centenarians. Longevity is associated with variations in genes responsible for repairing DNA and chromosome ends (“telomeres”), as well as protecting cells from damage by unstable oxygen-containing molecules (“free radicals”).
Variations in the genes that regulate the level of fats in the blood, combating inflammation and generally coordinating the work of the circulatory and immune systems help to increase life expectancy - they reduce the risk of heart disease and strokes, the leading causes of death in the elderly.
In 90, the attention of researchers from the field of anti-aging was riveted to the Caenorhabditis elegans worm: it seemed that mutation of one gene increased the lifespan of the worm, and another one blocked this increase.
Scientists managed to make C. elegans live ten times longer, but the reality turned out to be much more complicated than the initial ideas about it, said The New Yorker Gordon Lytgow, one of the researchers of the long-lived worm.
“We have already found about 550 genes in the worm that modulate lifespan. And I suspect that half of the worm's 20000 genes are involved in some way, ”said Lithgow.
And this is for one of the simplest organisms with 959 cells. In humans, about 37,2 trillion cells (although there are about the same number of genes as C. elegans), and genetic breakthroughs in the fight against aging have not yet been heard - although scientists are actively working in this direction.
Reaching the success in gene therapy of aging can help achieve startups involved in 3D-printing tissues and even organs, as well as growing them from stem cells. Polish scientists recently told about the printed pancreas with all vessels: it is planned to implant it in mice in April.
Victory and defeat
In an effort to defeat aging, humanity has tried a lot. Even the directions that were promising at first often turned out to be ineffective (or “so far ineffective”). Why? Aging is a complex process, scientists still cannot agree on its determining causes. Although in other living things (worms and mice), people achieved a significant increase in life expectancy using genetic, pharmacological (more than 400 substances) and dietary means. Alas, these advances do not necessarily translate to humans.
“None of them are ready for the premiere. In the end, I would not try any of these things, - Felipe Sierra, head of the biology of aging at the US National Institute of Aging, told reporters Kaiser Health News. - Why? Because I'm not a mouse. ”
A recent study in the United States and Australia showed that taking aspirin daily does not help people in their ages to increase their healthy life, and the effectiveness of antioxidants that are popular in dietary supplements is a big question.
Not everything is so simple with the telomeres, popular among seekers of immortality - the end sections of the chromosomes that protect them. As we age, telomeres shrink and cells stop dividing. It seemed that it was enough to lengthen them and voila - you can live forever. But later it became clear that, for example, long telomeres do not necessarily help laboratory mice to live long, even though they have activated telomerase, an enzyme that promotes telomere growth. Telomerase activity is also observed in almost all cancer cells, while in most ordinary human cells it is “off”. Scientists continue to look for ways to selectively activate telomerase, but so far without major breakthroughs in this direction. Other companies are exploring narrower areas, such as the use of telomerase in Alzheimer's disease.
Fashionable fascination for long life seekers today is Metformin, a cheap pill for people with diabetes that allow you to control your blood sugar levels. They are accepted by apologists for a long life: although the clinical effect of a drug for such purposes has not yet been confirmed, they consider it safe enough for long-term use, even if the probability of a positive effect is not very high.
Diabetics using it were actually healthier than diabetics taking other medications — they had a reduced risk of cancer and metformin mice successfully prolonged life. But this may also mean that other drugs for diabetics increased the risk of cancer and had a worse effect on people's health. Accordingly, we need a large-scale clinical test.
Healthy metformin users believe that it is simply not profitable for pharmaceutical companies to conduct long and expensive clinical trials. One of the apologists for an extremely cheap drug - metformin - estimated the costs at $ 69 million. In addition, the regulator has general questions about assessing the effectiveness of "life-prolonging" drugs: he does not consider aging to be a disease, moreover, it is much more difficult to prove the effectiveness than the clinical effect in relation to any one disease.
A similar situation with rapamycin: this immunosuppressant is usually used to combat organ rejection after transplantation, but some studies have shown its effectiveness in prolonging life in worms and laboratory mice. Unlike metformin, rapamycin suppresses the immune system and can cause more complications. Again: success in mice does not mean efficiency and safety in humans at all.
For example, a promising (after tests on mice) anti-aging medicine based on resveratrol, one of the components of red wine, failed in clinical tests - after the pharmacological giant GlaxoSmithKline bought the manufacturing company for $ 720 million.
Simple tips for those who want to live longer
This is unlikely to be a surprise, but the first advice for future centenarians: quit smoking and move more. Physical activity not only prolongs a healthy period of life, but also makes it more qualitative.
The second component is proper nutrition. More fruits and vegetables, fish, less unhealthy fats and carbohydrates - as a result, a reasonable amount of calories and no problems with excess weight. The adherents of therapeutic fasting at all convince that it would be good to fast more often, but here the scientific world does not have a definite opinion (and large-scale studies in humans, unlike mice).
Another important tip: decide on the purpose and meaning of life. People who admitted that their lives were filled with meaning also rated their well-being better. This means that they have a chance to live longer even without the not yet invented “pills for old age”.
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