BY: DANIEL KORN
I had this friend in high school who was obsessed with anti-aging science. My friend was profoundly uncomfortable with the notion of his own death, and, given the option, would happily choose to live forever. His hero was this guy Aubrey de Grey, a scientist who has devoted his life to theorizing about how to drastically extend human life, with an eye on eventual immortality, at least when it comes to natural causes. Most people—myself included—are immediately uncomfortable with the idea, thinking of problems both logistical (how do we handle overpopulation?) and ideological (isn’t it the briefness that gives life its power?) that come with the issue. That’s ignoring de Grey himself, who is sickly-thin, with a ratty beard that goes past his nipples and a seeming inability to wear anything other than the first t-shirt he picked up off the ground—not exactly the dude that makes you comfortable with outside-the-box ideas of mortality. Though he’s a strong speaker with an ability to boil down the issues with humour, I’m still not 100 percent sold on the idea of immortality.
Regardless, de Grey is probably cracking a smile today, as a research team from The Scripps Research Institute and Mayo Clinic have classified a new type of drug that could drastically slow down the aging process. The drugs, called “senolytics,” reportedly improve cardiac function and lessen frailty in mice, and could potentially do the same for humans; they might even be able to reverse chronic diseases and disabilities.
Senolytics work by killing off senescent cells, which are cells that have stopped dividing and accumulate with age, thus speeding up the aging process. These type of cells are usually resistant to destruction due to a cancer-like tendency towards survival against programmed cell death. Armed with this information, the team set about testing drugs that could break down this resistance, and settled on two drugs—the cancer drug dasatinib, and a natural compound called quercetin.
A combination of both was found to improve cardiovascular function within five days of a single dose, and according to an article in Science Daily, led to “improved exercise capacity in animals weakened by radiation therapy.”
There are a couple caveats here. First, the supposed improvements are non-specific—the study doesn’t mention exactly how much any of those things improved, which means it could be substantial, or it could be almost unnoticeable. The team is also quick to point out that more testing is needed before they do any trials on humans, and that the drugs could have possible side effects that haven’t yet been identified.
So there’s a long way to go, but the message is obvious —we’re barreling towards a future devoid of the negative effects of the natural aging process. Whether the consequences will be worth it or not is up to you.