Thanks to technological and scientific advancements, the human lifespan has increased significantly over the last few centuries. But while this improvement on life's length has also marked an improvement in treatments for age-related diseases, across the world, a healthy, disease-free lifespan has not increased as much as overall lifespan.
These aging-related challenges are reported in detail in Nature, alongside potential solutions that could increase the number of years we spend in good health. The areas currently being looked into include changing our gut microbiota, removing certain cells that can no longer replicate, specific anti-aging drugs, and even using young people’s blood to avoid certain diseases altogether.
The last point, in particular, has captured the imagination. Blood has been widely considered, especially in the West, as a repository of life's essence. This folkloristic notion got an unexpected confirmation in studies of mice that seemed to indicate that blood from young individuals can reverse some of the ill-effects of growing old. Even the introduction of blood plasma from young humans has had some rejuvenating effects on mice. But the translation to humans has, so far, failed to deliver such exciting results.
Injecting young people’s blood plasma into patients with dementia led to no particular improvement, although they didn’t have any adverse reactions either. A start-up called Ambrosia, funded by Peter Thiel, had people get involved in a similar study at $8,000 per person, but there is no news on whether or not it achieved anything. What's more, there are many ethical issues to consider in this endeavor.
One potential youth elixir without so many ethical problems comes in the form of transplanted gut bacteria. Research in this field has found some potential benefits on several age-related ailments, along with certain conditions that affect the brain. The studies are limited in number but hint at a potential avenue for extending the human health-span. Nevertheless, there's a lot more work to do.
“The practical accessibility of both the human microbiome and blood system makes therapeutic manipulation a particularly attractive approach, but research in animals is needed to establish the long-term consequences and possible side effects,” the authors wrote in their paper.
The discussion also focused on senescent cells, which are cells that can no longer duplicate. Just recently, scientists demonstrated that this cellular endpoint can be completely reversed. This was only done in the lab, but it suggests that there are many different paths to explore when it comes to tackling aging and its related issues.
However, we are still a long way from those ideas being put into practice. The researchers state that the best way to slow down the aging process is to create population-wide public health measures against obesity, overdrinking, and sedentary lifestyle. Ultimately, it’s up to the individuals if they want to pick them up.