19 June 2008

Where can I get a pill for old age?

Valentina Gatash, "Mirror of the Week", June 14-20, 2008

How far has the modern science of aging advanced in its research? Having gathered at the VIII International Symposium "Biological Mechanisms of Aging" at V.Karazin Kharkiv National University, scientists analyzed the results of research on the mechanisms of aging of various biological systems, discussed new theories in this field and the features of new experimental approaches, as well as social aspects of gerontology.

The cause of aging is inadequate interaction with the environment– Which of the directions in the study of aging, in your opinion, is the most promising?

– with this question, the correspondent of "ZN" turned to the scientific secretary of the Moscow Branch of the Gerontological Society of the Russian Academy of Sciences, an employee of the Institute of Biochemical Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences Alexander KHALYAVKIN.– There are two opposite concepts of the emergence of aging.

One says that we age in accordance with the aging program embedded in our body. Another considers old age to be the result of the accumulation of various damages, failures and errors that occur during life in such a complex system as the body.

There is also a kind of synthetic concept – aging is programmed and, in addition, modulated by various random events. Accordingly, most researchers engaged in the search for the root causes of aging and the study of its mechanisms are now focused on the events of the molecular genetic level, - said Alexander Viktorovich. – However, even the apologists of these concepts of aging recognize the inconsistency of these theories to explain normal aging. Paying tribute to the results obtained by colleagues in the process of molecular genetic research, I believe that they can be interpreted within the framework of another concept, which concerns natural aging and, in my opinion, is more promising.

This concept assumes that in many species of living beings with repeated reproduction cycles, aging occurs or is aggravated due to inadequate interaction of the external environment and the organism. This is the reason for the plasticity of aging that we observe, that is, the slowdown or acceleration of this process, depending on living conditions. If you optimize the body in all respects, then it will not age. Perhaps we can significantly slow down this process, and in some cases reverse it. It was about the development of this problem in the light of constantly emerging new data that I told my colleagues in Kharkiv.

– Do you think that the task of achieving a species life expectancy of 100-120 years is solvable for most people? Is it possible to cross these boundaries?– Biologically, this problem, in my opinion, is quite solvable.

Turning it into reality is no longer the task of gerontologists, but of politicians, economists, psychologists, lawyers, who must outline the contours and parameters of the future society of healthy and long–lived people.

The specific life expectancy does not have a sharply defined boundary and is quite plastic, that is, it depends on many reasons, including the initial level of mortality intensity and the rate of its increase with aging. In my opinion, both of these parameters can be regulated both by external factors and by reconfiguring the body's control systems. For example, on such simple laboratory objects as roundworms, it has already been possible to increase their species life expectancy by 10 times.

Bioconstructions need prevention– Vitaly Kimovich, the title of your report – "Reliability theory and aging: stochastic implementation of a genetic program" – evokes associations with technology rather than biology... – I am addressing Vitaly KOLTOVER, an employee of the Institute of Problems of Chemical Physics of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

– The essence of the matter is that biological systems consist of specific functional elements – biopolymers and bionanoreactors.

These are constructions. Their synthesis and assembly are carried out in accordance with genetic programs to perform certain vital functions.

A natural question arises: what is the quality of the work of these structures? There have long been different points of view on this issue. One, the biblical one, is entirely optimistic: "And the Lord saw all that he had created and said, 'This is good.' But there is another point of view, significantly less optimistic: "There is no thing in the world worth sparing. Creation is no good anywhere." This is what Mephistopheles says in Goethe's Faust.

If there are such different points of view, there is no truth between them. There is a problem between them. This problem is called "reliability of biological systems".

– And how can we assess the reliability of the biological systems of the human body?– A difficult question.

Twenty years ago, the Higher Attestation Commission – then still the USSR – awarded me the degree of Doctor of Biological Sciences for the formulation and development of the problem of reliability and aging of biosystems. In a nutshell – all biosystems have limited reliability. In my opinion, aging is precisely the consequence of genetically programmed limitations on the reliability of biological structures. For example, the excessive formation of oxygen free radicals, which harm the cell, is the result of failures in the work of bionanoreactors in our body.

The most effective method of creating highly reliable systems from unreliable functional elements is failure prevention. For example, there is a special enzyme, superoxide dismutase, which intercepts oxygen anion radicals and prevents them from doing destructive work. According to estimates, of course, if it were possible to intercept all the radicals, our brain could function for 250 years! But antioxidant enzyme protection works with limited reliability. It was conceived by nature, programmed genetically. And no additional antioxidants – neither natural, such as vitamins E and C, nor synthetic, even "Skulachev ions" – will help. They cannot grab radicals, reactive oxygen species, faster than natural enzymes do. We will go the other way: not to intercept radicals, but to prevent their formation. We need to look for other geroprotectors.

– Can we say that weak links have been found in the human structure?– Every researcher involved in the biology of aging is looking for such links in the field in which he is an expert…

– That is, under the lantern...– Yes, for me it's mitochondria, it's free radicals and so on.

But in fact, I think these are still particulars. When I was still a very young man reporting at my institute, in chemical physics, in the laboratory of Lev Alexandrovich Blumenfeld, my teacher, my first work on reliability and aging, I was asked: "Well, where are these constructions that set the program?" I replied: "In my opinion, in the hypothalamus." Blumenfeld's reaction was instantaneous: "Cut the hypothalamus to hell and live forever!" There is always some truth in the scientist's joke. I still think that the command post is sitting in the hypothalamus. Many people think the same way.

And I also believe in new geroprotectors based on isotopic nanobiotechnologies. They are being developed at our Institute of Problems of Chemical Physics together with Kiev colleagues from the Institute of Gerontology of the Academy of Sciences of Ukraine.

We still don't understand much– Alexander Nikolaevich, gerontologists study the mechanism of aging in a variety of directions – from the study of processes at the molecular genetic and cellular levels to the development of low-calorie diets.

Which one of them, in your opinion, is there a real shift? – I ask Alexander Khokhlov, Head of the Evolutionary Cytogerontology sector of the MSU Biofactory.– As for the study of aging processes in cell cultures, specialists have been actively engaged in them for twenty years.

Nevertheless, in my report I express doubts about the expediency of studying aging only at the cellular level.

Perhaps we haven't been doing exactly what we need for two decades at all? Have you gone into the depths, risking losing what is being formed at the level of the body? I do not exclude that the processes occurring at the supracellular level, at the level of the organism as a whole, are more important for understanding this process.

In my opinion, in a sense, all directions in modern gerontology are dead ends, since we still understand little about the mechanisms of aging. Unfortunately, there are no real changes. Rather, all our achievements are within the limits of the species life expectancy of 100-120 years. Moreover, until now it has grown not due to the improvement of the human body, but thanks to the successful fight against adverse factors: epidemics, hunger, difficult working conditions and the like. Having coped with pathogenic microorganisms and developed technologies, civilization has entered a stage when people can live up to the natural limit of their age. But even with the healthiest lifestyle, a person cannot cross the physiological limit.

– The average life expectancy of our compatriots does not even reach the physiological limit…– At the same time, there are countries that are already close to this.

For example, in the USA, many of my friends have parents over 90 years old, and they, by the way, drive a car themselves. In Japan and the USA, women have an average life expectancy of 82.5 years. These are already quite high indicators. It should be emphasized that in developed countries people live for a long time primarily due to a high standard of living. Much is also determined by what a person wants from his life. Not everyone wants to live for a long time – most want to live, from their point of view, well, that is, actively enjoy all the pleasures of life. And a good life and a long life have little in common. Let's imagine that scientists have found a remedy for aging, but at the same time a person should lead an absolutely ascetic lifestyle. How many people will agree to live 500 years without booze, cigarettes, delicious food, sex, entertainment, and so on?

– However, death is not at all the lot of all living organisms – in freshwater hydra, for example, there is a continuous renewal of the body's cells. Maybe scientists will find the same immortality gene in our DNA after all…– The series of immortals can be continued.

Populations of bacteria and cancer cells are immortal. Even a person is partially "immortal": blood cells, epidermis and gastric epithelium can be renewed much longer than the whole body lives. There is the immortality of germ plasm, germ cells – they pass from generation to generation and do not die. In essence, man is an example of an immortal cell culture that has been multiplying for two to three million years. So, unlimited longevity in principle does not contradict the very nature of life. But these are different tasks – to ensure that people live their "legitimate" 100-120 years or live 300-500 years, or even longer. To get closer to solving the second problem, biologists had to go down from the cellular level of research to the step where DNA is located.

– In other words, we can say that to live your species life expectancy fully is a tit in the hand, and to push the boundaries of species life expectancy is already a crane in the sky...– Are you satisfied with our species life expectancy?

Probably, you will say "no", even though we live several times longer than a Stone Age man. No matter how long we live, it will always be not enough for us. In addition, our society is not ready for the appearance of centenarians on a massive scale. Already, pensioners make up 20% of the population, and if there are more of them?.. And how will life extension affect such a social institution as the family?

– ...And yet, if we return to the tit in the hand, what real recipes for longevity can science offer now?– Unfortunately, gerontology can offer the same simple recipes for prolonging active life as many years ago: sufficient physical activity and sufficient sleep, a low-calorie full-fledged diet, the absence of chronic stress, a little dry red wine…

Academic science and harsh reality"The results of the symposium may cause some disappointment to those who are already expecting simple recipes for how to extend their lives for many years," said Anatoly Bozhkov, Chairman of the organizing committee of the symposium, Director of the Institute of Biology of V. Karazin Kharkiv National University, at the end of the scientific forum.

– There are no such recipes. We are not yet able to realize the specific life expectancy that is laid down by evolution. However, we can talk about the restrained optimism of scientists, which is dictated by the further development of gerontology. Specialists are developing a new system of views on the aging process not as a pathology, but as a special state of adaptive processes in the body that can be controlled and controlled. There was an understanding of the important role played by the optimal modes of existence of a biological organism in the "organism-environment" system.

...Don't you think, reader, that the situation with life expectancy in Ukraine confirms this point of view? How else to explain the fact that in terms of life expectancy, Ukraine occupies the penultimate place in the world, ahead only of Russia, and in terms of extinction rates – the first?

Moreover, experts note an atypical structure of mortality in the country – a third of the deceased are people of working age. Ukrainians live on average 10-12 years less than residents of EU countries, and the premature mortality of Ukrainian men of working age is three to four times higher. More than 40% of 16-18-year-old boys have no chance of living even to 60 years, which is half the physiological limit. And speaking specifically, according to experts, unbalanced and irrational nutrition, smoking, alcohol abuse and injuries are ruining the nation. The epidemiological disadvantage of Ukraine, limited motor activity and unfavorable environmental situation, in particular poor-quality drinking water, are also important factors. I would also add here the uncertainty of an ordinary Ukrainian in the future. Another negative trend has emerged – since 2005, an increase in mortality among children under one year old and the number of stillborn children has been recorded.

The Cabinet of Ministers has developed the concept of the state target program "Healthy Nation", which is designed to correct the situation. In Ukraine, the document says, there is no public awareness of the value of health and the nation, an effective system of stimulating Ukrainians to preserve health has not been formed. The program, which is designed to change our consciousness and create a new system of values regarding our health and longevity, aims to increase the average life expectancy of men by two years and women by one year during 2009-2013 and reduce the mortality rate of people of working age by 15%. To be honest, there is no special faith in this program, like many other state programs that have remained only on paper.

Perhaps someday a "pill for old age" will be created or an opportunity will be opened to "reprogram" our genes for immortality, but it is not worth hoping for. It is necessary to try independently, in the words of scientists, "to optimize your existence in the "organism-environment" system, and if it is simpler, to lead a healthy lifestyle. That is, to give up bad habits, make sufficient physical activity and sufficient sleep a rule, adhere to a low-calorie full-fledged diet, etc. It's not as easy as we would like, but there is no other way now.

Portal "Eternal youth" www.vechnayamolodost.ru19.06.2008

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