Avoiding the onset of illness and death is instinctive in human beings. We all take enough care to protect ourselves from accidents, undergo treatments and use medications to overcome diseases, and so on. All these no doubt prolong our lives in some sense, but what about longevity? This refers to the length of a person’s life while being faced with hurdles of old-age and its accompaniments like diabetes, neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases, cancers, etc. This is where the longevity industry comes into play. Research to reverse the aging mechanisms in humans has assumed great importance, and has also attracted prominent investors. Certain recent scientific advancements have put us a step closer to achieving the goal of longevity.
It’s not just about a long life, but also a healthy one
Before diving into the results of recent studies, we need to understand the difference between lifespan and healthspan. People often do not express enthusiasm to live longer than a certain age as they do not wish to suffer from any of the age-related ailments which can easily take a nasty turn. The longevity industry is focused on turning the tables on this very issue. The research is directed at enhancing not just the lifespan but also the quality of living, i.e. a person’s healthspan.
Groundbreaking cancer trial
In an unprecedented clinical trial performed by the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, patients with a specific type of rectal cancer were completely cured of it. This is special and futuristic as the same was accomplished solely through immunotherapy and without administering any radiation or chemotherapy, and without the patients undergoing any surgery. The first four patients and the subsequent 14 patients with rectal cancer of the mismatch repair-deficient (MMRd) type have remained cancer free since undergoing the immunotherapy.
These rectal tumors were made up of a specific genetic element called the mismatch repair-deficient (MMRd). The cancer cells close off the immune cells from functioning normally and attacking the alien and largely mutated cancer cells. However, by using an immunotherapy agent – dostarlimab – the immune cells in these patients were freed to identify and attack the MMRd cells. This resulted in a complete disappearance of the cancer. More importantly, the patients have experienced normal biological functions since the therapy with no side-effects being reported. This clinical trial has shown promising effects towards advancements in cancer research. Clinical trials for patients diagnosed with other cancers like that of the prostate, pancreas and stomach have begun, offering hope towards a healthy longevity in the near future.
Reversing aging through plasmalogens
Plasmalogens, an important lipid, plays a vital role in regulating information-exchange between cells, protecting them from damage and curbing inflammation. A decrease in the quantity of plasmalogens has shown to be linked to the onset of Alzheimer’s and aging in humans. Inflammation in cells also contributes to Alzheimer’s disease. Recently, a study was conducted to assess the impact of plasmalogens in eliminating age-related neuroinflammation. As a part of this, middle-aged female mice were fed plasmalogens – extracted from sea squirts – in high concentrations. This resulted in decreased inflammation, improved memory, and improvements in generation of neurons, and then connections between them, when compared with mice on a normal diet.
The results of this study supports previous findings where plasmalogens led to the improvement of memory in humans with mild cognitive impairment. Thus it opens the doors to further research on the viability of this effect on other organs, as well as the immune system.
In yet another recent study, the cellular communication between different tissues in the human body through signals was used as the basis to study C. elegans roundworms. The key component of this study was lysosomes, which are responsible for the recycling and breaking down of foreign material in cells – commonly referred to as the dumping site for cellular waste products. It was discovered that dihomo-gamma-linoleic acid produced by the lysosome creates a domino effect of cellular messages, which led to an extended lifespan in the roundworms. When this signaling was triggered by the researchers, it was found there was an increase in the lifespan of these worms from 17 days to 20-25 days.
The signals thus produced by lysosomes can potentially regulate longevity across the whole organism. This anti-aging study is relevant to humans as the genomes and cellular pathways are similar to that of these worms. The outcome of this study can be carried forward to building anti-aging therapies for humans, making longevity a scientific possibility.
Clearing out the waste
Cells are the basic building blocks of the human body. A major factor leading to aging and age-related diseases is the wearing out of cells, in turn hampering the functionality of mitochondria – popularly the powerhouse of the cells. Our body naturally eliminates damaged cells through a process called apoptosis. As we age, however, these dysfunctional or senescent cells not only start accumulating, but also secrete large amounts of toxic compounds. This has the potential to accelerate the aging process, even alleviating the risk of diabetes, neurodegenerative disorders and cancer, among others.
A solution to this problem has been brewing for quite some time in the form of senolytics. These are certain compounds which discard the senescent cells by reactivating the apoptosis mechanism. Senolytic compounds including fisetin, apigenin and quercetin have shown promising results towards slowing down, or even reversing the aging process.
The latest development with senolytics comes from the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Shanghai. A naturally occurring compound, procyanidin C1 was introduced in old mice to disrupt the process of aging. 91 old mice aged between 24-27 months, which equates to 75-90 human years, were injected with this senolytic compound. The results revealed a 60% increase in their remaining lifespan. It was also found that the procyanidin C1 compound was effective in selective elimination of senescent cells, while not affecting the normally functioning cells. The compound also increased the muscular strength in the mice. Although the feasibility of the PCC1 compound on humans remains to be tested, other senolytic drugs have shown to reduce inflammation of senescent cells, and delay diseases like cancers, and disorders related to heart, kidney, brain, etc.
The road towards preventative treatment
The present way of treating diseases is largely reactive, that is, it starts post diagnosis. However, with rapid advancements in anti-aging research, a preventative cure is within reach. In a way, embracing longevity research, medicine and ways of increasing a healthy lifespan can be seen as the modern-day “survival of the fittest”.