Humans have been looking for ways to cheat death for centuries. And while we've succeeded in extending our life span, many people suffer ill health in their later years. Now researchers have pivoted to study ways to improve our "health span" to allow us to enjoy our longevity. The cover story in Chemical & Engineering News (C&EN), the weekly newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, explores whether this could finally unlock the secrets of youth.
Sarah Everts, a senior editor at C&EN, notes that at the crux of the search for longer life is the fundamental question: Why do we age at all? For most of human history, people died of violence, starvation and infectious diseases. Most researchers who study aging agree that our bodies were meant to be at their best long enough to reproduce -- but that the traits which helped humans to stay alive long enough to procreate can pose problems decades later.
This understanding has led scientists to take a closer look at the biological processes that keeps us going when we're young but are problematic in old age. Aging "senescent" cells, for example, stop dividing if the cells are on the verge of becoming cancerous. These cells also secrete molecules that can stimulate regeneration and repair in young people. But as we age, more cells turn senescent, and the molecules they release build up, causing inflammation. To counter this, some scientists are working on ways to clear out senescent cells or to reprogram them. In addition, other researchers are looking at re-purposing existing drugs and using computer power to fight aging.