Flashback to many years ago; you may or may not believe that smallpox killed approximately 300 million people in the 20th century alone. That would account for roughly 19% of the population at that time. Thanks to Edward Jenner’s vaccine breakthrough, today, the smallpox can be cured before it is even contracted. It is rarely, if at all, seen as lethal. Flash-forward a century, someone may be typing out the same thing about ageing, does that not sound crazy?
For as long as humans have existed, ageing has been seen as an inconvenience despite the fact that it forms a natural process of life. According to ASAP Science, humans are “programmed to die”. Yet, beauty companies are constantly advertising products which will bring back one’s “youthful glow”, anti-ageing diets are a trend and vampire facials (made famous by Kim Kardashian) are a thing. This brings us to the main question: how close are the mad scientists to curing this ‘disease’?
Turns out, we do not really need a high-tech solution to ageing!
Turns out, closer than you would want to think. Stanford University School of Medicine has successfully created and implemented a procedure to lengthen telomeres in skin cells. Wait, what are telomeres? They are the protective caps found on the end of DNA strands, and every time a cell divides, the telomeres get shorter. The shorter the telomere, the more you age. The cell eventually reaches a point where it is stripped off from the telomere and it no longer divides and dies.
Hence, by lengthening our telomeres, we are slowing down the process of ageing and the diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, which accompany it. It should be noted that ageing is not just genetic; environmental factors influence it as well. So, for example, if you are a fan of The Ram’s curly fries or religiously down VKs during a night out, you are not doing your telomeres any favours.
However, if telomere-lengthening sounds too far in the future and you are looking for something more accessible in the market, then worry not. In California, a start up business is offering young blood transfusions from donors aged 16-25 to people who have the luxury of spending $8000(£6121) per treatment. These clients are already reporting improvement in their cognitive abilities, energy levels and muscle strength.
The idea for this procedure came from anecdotes by patients who reported feeling “rejuvenated” after having received blood transfusions from donors younger than them. This in turn, was tested on mice during an experiment, and the study revealed that the mice benefitted from an enhanced ‘synaptic plasticity’. This is a mechanism closely linked to learning and memory.
ageing is not just genetic; environmental factors influence it as well
If California is too far and $8000 (£6121) too pricey for an anti-ageing treatment, there is still a more affordable solution. In fact, if you have done a HIITT (high intensity interval training) workout this week, you have already decreased your chances of getting affected by age-related disease. Need proof? A study assigned a three-month HIITT program to participants aged between 65 and 80 revealed “earth shattering” information.
The mitochondria, often referred to as “the power house of the cell” have the role of creating 90% of the body’s energy and this ability decreases with age. However with HIITT, this function increased by 69% with the participants. According to Nair, who was part of the research; “there’s no substitute for these exercise programs when it comes to delaying the ageing process…these things we are seeing cannot be done by any medicine.” Turns out, we do not really need a high-tech solution to ageing!
However, if we are talking about over-the counter pill solutions to ageing, we are still far from that. Right now, the research is mainly focused on specific diseases (like Alzheimer’s) which appear as a consequence of ageing. It is not necessarily about prolonging life itself, but prolonging the quality of life. That is not to say it will not happen. Did you know that plastic surgery was pioneered during war as a way of treating soldiers’ wounds?
Today, it has trickled down to being used mostly for cosmetic purposes. If that is any indication of the route the industry of anti-ageing will take, one day, the promise of eternal youth will become available to everyone…but are we ready for it?