Slowing the Aging Process: Seven Biological Reasons we Grow Old

By | October 4, 2008

To what should one dedicate one’s life? I get excited about the idea of hacking human biology to eliminate the effects of aging.  If I were to choose a new career path right now, working on one of these seven biological causes of aging would be worth at least the next 20 year’s effort. All of these are fixable, which means death by old age is curable!

The seven types of aging damage proposed by de Grey.

  1. Cancer-causing nuclear mutations/epimutations:
    These are changes to the nuclear DNA (nDNA), the molecule that contains our genetic information, or to proteins which bind to the nDNA. Certain mutations can lead to cancer, and, according to de Grey, non-cancerous mutations and epimutations do not contribute to aging within a normal lifespan, so cancer is the only endpoint of these types of damage that must be addressed.
  2. Mitochondrial mutations:
    Mitochondria are components in our cells that are important for energy production. They contain their own genetic material, and mutations to their DNA can affect a cell’s ability to function properly. Indirectly, these mutations may accelerate many aspects of aging.
  3. Intracellular junk:
    Our cells are constantly breaking down proteins and other molecules that are no longer useful or which can be harmful. Those molecules which can’t be digested simply accumulate as junk inside our cells. Atherosclerosis, macular degeneration and all kinds of neurodegenerative diseases (such as Alzheimer’s disease) are associated with this problem.
  4. Extracellular junk:
    Harmful junk protein can also accumulate outside of our cells. The amyloid plaque seen in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients is one example.
  5. Cell loss:
    Some of the cells in our bodies cannot be replaced, or can only be replaced very slowly – more slowly than they die. This decrease in cell number causes the heart to become weaker with age, and it also causes Parkinson’s disease and impairs the immune system.
  6. Cell senescence:
    This is a phenomenon where the cells are no longer able to divide, but also do not die and let others divide. They may also do other things that they’re not supposed to, like secreting proteins that could be harmful. Immune senescence and type 2 diabetes are caused by this.[citation needed]
  7. Extracellular crosslinks:
    Cells are held together by special linking proteins. When too many cross-links form between cells in a tissue, the tissue can lose its elasticity and cause problems including arteriosclerosis and presbyopia.[7]

Aubrey de Grey, British researcher on aging, claims he has drawn a roadmap to defeat biological aging. He provocatively proposes that the first human beings who will live to 1,000 years old have already been born.

A true maverick, Aubrey de Grey challenges the most basic assumption underlying the human condition — that aging is inevitable. He argues instead that aging is a disease — one that can be cured if it’s approached as “an engineering problem.” His plan calls for identifying all the components that cause human tissue to age, and designing remedies for each of them — forestalling disease and eventually pushing back death. He calls the approach Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS).

With his astonishingly long beard, wiry frame and penchant for bold and cutting proclamations, de Grey is a magnet for controversy. A computer scientist, self-taught biogerontologist and researcher, he has co-authored journal articles with some of the most respected scientists in the field. – ted

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