Boosting ‘Cellular Garbage Disposal’ Can Delay the Aging Process
This is a fascinating new discovery that can have very quick and noticeable effects on aging and certain illnesses that come along with it. What I find fascinating about this discovery is that increasing just a single gene, called parkin, results in a 25% increase in life span in fruit flies.
This is great for extended living, but there is another aspect of this discovery that is more exciting, as summarized by one of the researchers:
“Just by increasing the levels of parkin, they live substantially longer while remaining healthy, active and fertile,” said Anil Rana, a postdoctoral scholar in Walker’s laboratory and lead author of the research. “That is what we want to achieve in aging research — not only to increase their life span but to increase their health span as well.”
The idea of not just increasing the health span of a creature, as opposed to simply the lifespan, is fascinating.
Personally, one of my greatest fears in life is losing my mind—that is, losing my memories as I get older, and losing my ability to recall the ups and downs, the joys and sorrows, that make me me. If you removed all the memories from my head, you’d be left with my basic personality but none of my developed characteristics that come from my experiences.
I saw my grandfather descend into dementia and Alzheimer’s after several strokes before he passed away when I was a teenager. While it was nice to have him in my life until almost the end of high school, he wasn’t really “in my life” the way that he himself might have said so. For the last several years of his life, he barely even recognized his own family and had very little idea what was going on. In many ways, this was harder to deal with than if he had died from his very first serious stroke.
Transporting this scenario to me, I would much rather have more years of healthy living, especially for mental capacity, than just living longer. What’s living an extra ten years if I don’t even know who I am any more?
The key to aging is not just living longer, it is living better for longer. If we can achieve both by affecting simply one gene, imagine the benefits. That, to me, sounds like an incredible breakthrough and a significant part of the future of aging research.
There are many ways researchers are approaching anti-aging. The problem is that a breakthrough in one area might be well and good, but if you cannot keep every other part of the body up with that one thing, it might all be for naught. If I will lose my memories by 90, what does it matter if I live to be 95 or 105? Some might say they wouldn’t want to be a burden on their families at that point anyway.
Yet, again, to focus on the positive, this discovery seems to affect both relative areas: the lifespan itself, and the longevity of “quality of life.” Fending off Parkinson’s disease (to which the parkin gene is indeed related) and other age-related diseases would improve the quality and longevity of life of many.