Imagine an intervention, such as a pill, that could significantly reduce your risk of cancer. Imagine an intervention that could reduce your risk of stroke, or dementia, or arthritis. Now, imagine an intervention that does all these things, and at the same time reduces your risk of everything else undesirable about growing older: including heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer and Parkinson disease, hip fractures, osteoporosis, sensory impairments, and sexual dysfunction. Such a pill may sound like fantasy, but aging interventions already do this in animal models. And many scientists believe that such an intervention is a realistically achievable goal for people. People already place a high value on both quality and length of life, which is why children are immunized against infectious diseases. In the same spirit, we suggest that a concerted effort to slow aging begin immediately--because it will save and extend lives, improve health, and create wealth.
The experience of aging is about to change. Humans are approaching old age in unprecedented numbers, and this generation and all that follow have the potential to live longer, healthier lives than any in history. These changing demographics also carry the prospect of overwhelming increases in age-related disease, frailty, disability, and all the associated costs and social burdens. The choices we make now will have a pro-found influence on the health and the wealth of current and future generations.
GERONTOLOGY COMES OF AGE
Gerontology has grown beyond its historical and traditional image of disease management and palliative care for the old, to the scientific study of aging processes in humans and in other species--the latter is known as biogerontology. In recent decades biogerontologists have gained significant insight into the causes of aging. They've revolutionized our understanding of the biology of life and death. They've dispelled long-held misconceptions about aging and its effects, and offered for the first time a real scientific foundation for the feasibility of extending and improving life.
The idea that age-related illnesses are independently influenced by genes and/or behavioral risk factors has been dispelled by evidence that genetic and dietary interventions can retard nearly all late-life diseases in parallel. Several lines of evidence in models ranging from simple eukaryotes to mammals suggest that our own bodies may well have "switches" that influence how quickly we age. These switches are not set in stone; they are potentially adjustable.
Biogerontologists have progressed far beyond merely describing cellular aging, cell death, free radicals, and telomere shortening, to actually manipulating molecular machinery and cell functions. (1) These recent scientific breakthroughs have nothing in common with the claims of entrepreneurs selling alleged anti-aging interventions they say can slow, stop, or reverse human aging (see 'Tour money for your life" on pg. 33 for a peek at this industry). No such treatment yet exists.
Nevertheless, the belief that aging is an immutable process, programmed by evolution, is now known to be wrong. In recent decades, our knowledge of how, why, and when aging processes take place has progressed so much that many scientists now believe...
This is a preview. Get the full text through your school or public library.