Wikipedia defines death as “the cessation of all biological functions that sustain a living organism.”Death itself is not a disease just like Life cannot be categorized as a disease. But what of aging?Statistically, about 90 percent of the population die of ‘old age’. But does old age really kill you? Biologically no. By definition, aging is the changes that our bodies go throughout life, we choose to define aging largely as the time period in our later years that creates images of brittle bones and muscle, compromised immune systems and a loss of cognitive ability. Our bodies get progressively weaker until we succumb to one or more diseases or one essential part of our body breaks down, extinguishing our ability to live.
So in theory, aging is something that causes other diseases to prevail in our body? Just like diabetes increases the risk of heart disease and stroke? The diabetes ultimately may not kill you, but the brain stroke will? How about AIDS? Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. It is a disease that compromises the immune system so much so that any small infection even the common cold for example, may prove fatal to you. It does not kill you itself, but boosts the others do it for it. Aging does the same thing.
Aging is damage to our vitality – our systems, our organs, our cells etc.
And so categorizing aging as a disease helps us do one thing, it allows medicine to see it in a different light. As something that doesn’t just happen, something to be accepted without resistance but as something that can be prevented even for a little while longer. We will all die, that’s inevitable but if we could use medicine to make our brittle bones, immune systems and cognitive ability stronger, we would be able to extend our lives. Our bodies wouldn’t be as easily susceptible to diseases such as heart disease, strokes, cancers etc, we would be stronger, more fit to defend ourselves against pathogens just as we could in our youth. It wouldn’t be very different from replacing our hearts with an artificial one if you think about it. Both give us the ability to hold our own against the world for a little bit longer. It gives us the hope that aging can be delayed and ultimately cured.
The cure for biological aging does not mean that we won’t die rather our systems and organs will stay working a tad longer than they are currently. We would not live forever rather we would spend a little more time on earth. Maybe a hundred years or more with our family and friends. More time in good health, rather than in wheel chairs. More time maybe doing things that are worthwhile? Think if Einstein had lived for another hundred years. Martin Luther King. Jimi Hendrix. Think of what they could have done.
In fact, trials are already being done in order to combat aging. Senescent cells accumulate more and more in the body as organisms age. Peter de Keizer at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and his colleagues designed a peptide that causes the senescent cells to self destruct rather than accumulate as they normally do. This caused a increase in kidney function in aged mice as well as eliminated weight loss problems and liver damage in mice undergoing chemo. Mice with premature aging syndrome also experienced a regrowth of fur and increase the distance for which they could run. Without any harm to healthy cells. The first human trials are also reported to begin.
Not just senescent cells provide a hopeful light in the tunnel, stem cells serve as a beacon just as bright. Stem cells are very special. This is because they can grow in to any kind of cell within the body. They can divide almost limitlessly once differentiated. They are the cells that we as zygotes form from and grow into embryos.
In a study, older mice was injected with stem cells from younger mice, which in turn caused them to have increased cognitive and muscular abilities and lived 10 percent longer. Similar studies of stem cells being injected to older mice caused them to regrow hair faster and run longer. Live more Healthier.
In short, there are very hopeful signs that one day aging can be prevented for a while. Treated just like any other disease. So that we can be healthier for longer.
Ultimately the goal isn’t to stop death but to delay it a little bit longer so we can do more. For us, others and for our world.