Life extension – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Posted: May 4, 2015 at 12:10 pm

Life extension science, also known as anti-aging medicine, indefinite life extension, experimental gerontology, and biomedical gerontology, is the study of slowing down or reversing the processes of aging to extend both the maximum and average lifespan. Some researchers in this area, and “life extensionists”, “immortalists” or “longevists” (those who wish to achieve longer lives themselves), believe that future breakthroughs in tissue rejuvenation, stem cells, regenerative medicine, molecular repair, pharmaceuticals, and organ replacement (such as with artificial organs or xenotransplantations) will eventually enable humans to have indefinite lifespans (agerasia[1]) through complete rejuvenation to a healthy youthful condition.

The sale of putative anti-aging products such as nutrition, physical fitness, skin care, hormone replacements, vitamins, supplements and herbs is a lucrative global industry, with the US market generating about $50billion of revenue each year.[2] Some medical experts state that the use of such products has not been proven to affect the aging process and many claims regarding the efficacy of these marketed products have been roundly criticized by medical experts, including the American Medical Association.[2][3][4][5][6]

However, it has not been shown that the goal of indefinite human lifespans itself is necessarily unfeasible; some animals such as hydra, planarian flatworms, and certain sponges, corals, and jellyfish do not die of old age and exhibit potential immortality.[7][8][9][10] The ethical ramifications of life extension are debated by bioethicists.

Life extension is a controversial topic due to fear of overpopulation and possible effects on society.[11] Religious people are no more likely to oppose life extension than the unaffiliated,[12] though some variation exists between religious denominations. Biogerontologist Aubrey De Grey counters the overpopulation critique by pointing out that the therapy could postpone or eliminate menopause, allowing women to space out their pregnancies over more years and thus decreasing the yearly population growth rate.[13] Moreover, the philosopher and futurist Max More argues that, given the fact the worldwide population growth rate is slowing down and is projected to eventually stabilize and begin falling, superlongevity would be unlikely to contribute to overpopulation.[11]

A Spring 2013 Pew Research poll in the United States found that 38% of Americans would want life extension treatments, and 56% would reject it. However, it also found that 68% believed most people would want it and that only 4% consider an “ideal lifespan” to be more than 120 years. The median “ideal lifespan” was 91 years of age and the majority of the public (63%) viewed medical advances aimed at prolonging life as generally good. 41% of Americans believed that radical life extension would be good for society, while 51% said they believed it would be bad for society.[12] One possibility for why 56% of Americans claim they would reject life extension treatments may be due to the cultural perception that living longer would result in a longer period of decrepitude, and that the elderly in our current society are unhealthy.[14]

During the process of aging, an organism accumulates damage to its macromolecules, cells, tissues, and organs. Specifically, aging is characterized as and thought to be caused by “genomic instability, telomere attrition, epigenetic alterations, loss of proteostasis, deregulated nutrient sensing, mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular senescence, stem cell exhaustion, and altered intercellular communication.”[15]Oxidation damage to cellular contents caused by free radicals is believed to contribute to aging as well.[16][16][17]

The longest a human has ever been proven to live is 122 years, the case of Jeanne Calment who was born in 1875 and died in 1997, whereas the maximum lifespan of a wildtype mouse, commonly used as a model in research on aging, is about three years.[18] Genetic differences between humans and mice that may account for these different aging rates include differences in efficiency of DNA repair, antioxidant defenses, energy metabolism, proteostasis maintenance, and recycling mechanisms such as autophagy.[19]

Average lifespan in a population is lowered by infant and child mortality, which are frequently linked to infectious diseases or nutrition problems. Later in life, vulnerability to accidents and age-related chronic disease such as cancer or cardiovascular disease play an increasing role in mortality. Extension of expected lifespan can often be achieved by access to improved medical care, vaccinations, good diet, exercise and avoidance of hazards such as smoking.

Maximum lifespan is determined by the rate of aging for a species inherent in its genes and by environmental factors. Widely recognized methods of extending maximum lifespan in model organisms such as nematodes, fruit flies, and mice include caloric restriction, gene manipulation, and administration of pharmaceuticals.[20] Another technique uses evolutionary pressures such as breeding from only older members or altering levels of extrinsic mortality.[21][22]

Theoretically, extension of maximum lifespan in humans could be achieved by reducing the rate of aging damage by periodic replacement of damaged tissues, molecular repair or rejuvenation of deteriorated cells and tissues, reversal of harmful epigenetic changes, or the enhancement of telomerase enzyme activity.[23][24]

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Life extension – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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