31 August 2012

To live forever and not grow old: to be continued

In search of immortality

Sergey Manukov, "Expert Online"

Probably, it is impossible to find a person who at least once, and most often more than once, asked himself the question: why can't we live forever? People have been searching for the elixir of eternal youth for centuries. The whole of Europe in the Middle Ages was looking for the Philosopher's stone, which was able not only to turn metals into gold, but also to prolong life and restore youth.

The most noticeable trace in the search for the elixir of eternal youth was left by Juan Ponce de Leon, the Spanish conquistador and governor of the island of San Juan, who lived in the 15th and 16th centuries. Then the elixir of youth was represented by living water, tales of which can be found back in antiquity. It is enough to recall Herodotus, who wrote about the Ethiopians who lived for 120 years. When the Persian ambassadors were surprised by their longevity, they took the Persians to a spring with "living water", constant bathing in which prolonged life.

Ponce de Leon was looking for eternal youth in the Bahamas. There, on the island of Bimini, according to Indian legends, there was a spring of living water, ablution in which granted eternal youth.

Of course, Ponce de Leon did not find the living water that he was supposed to bring to the court of the Spanish king Ferdinand. However, the expedition was not in vain – he discovered Florida.

The story of the search for eternal youth in the Bahamas had a very recent continuation. A few years ago, the famous illusionist David Copperfield bought four islands in the south of the Bahamian archipelago, in the Egzuma ridge, for $ 50 million. On which of them he found "living" water, which, according to him, literally revives dried leaves and plants and practically dead insects, is not reported.

Copperfield invited scientists who had to figure out whether the miraculous effect of water also extends to people. Obviously, the water revived only the dried leaves, because there were no reports of the construction of a resort for those wishing to rejuvenate.

Reproduction is more importantWhat prevents humanity from living forever?

Many believe that the environment prevents us from becoming immortal. Others sin on food and water. In fact, the reason is in ourselves. Our own body does not allow us to live forever.

The life span of any living organism is determined by the amount of energy allocated to two main processes: vital activity and reproduction (reproduction). If all or most of it were spent on life support, then we would live much longer. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), we have to grow up and reproduce offspring.

In any case, we live much longer than our ancestors. Among the cave dwellers, 30-year-olds were considered long-livers. The average life expectancy in the United States some 100 years ago was only 53 years. Every fourth child did not live to the fifth birthday, tens of thousands of women died due to complications during childbirth.

Today, life expectancy has increased to 78.1 years thanks to healthcare. In Japan, the average life expectancy of women is 85.6 years, and in some African countries where AIDS is rampant – no more than 30.

Functional machineA Frenchwoman named Jeanne Kalman is considered the oldest inhabitant of the Earth among those whose dates of birth are precisely known.

She lived 122 years and 164 days. Scientists believe that this is the limit for humans.

Why can't we all live so long? Here, too, everything is extremely simple. In general, all organisms consist of two types of cells: non-producing and producing. Non-producing cells are cells of the eyes, skin, muscles, bones, etc. Reproducing cells are cells of spermatozoa and eggs. Any living organism faces a constant task – to survive. Radioactivity, chemicals, free radicals, harmful bacteria and viruses attack our cells 24 hours a day. Thousands of cells cannot withstand such a life in a day. This "environment" also negatively affects DNA, which change or mutate. Our body gradually replaces damaged cells with the help of continuous reproduction. This process requires a lot of energy. However, the amount of energy is limited, it must be divided between vital activity and reproduction.

In the process of evolution, all living organisms on our planet began to spend most of their energy on supporting reproducing cells.

Aging occurs because our body must constantly maintain a balance between reproduction and maintaining the body in a normal state. There is not enough energy for both processes. Most of it goes to the reproduction and protection of reproducing cells, and the remainder goes to the support of non-reproducing cells. As a result, damage accumulates in the cells over time, which causes diseases of the organs.

"The human body is a machine that performs a number of functions," says Aubrey de Grey, one of the authoritative experts in the field of life extension, "and, like any normally functioning mechanism, accumulates various damages. Therefore, in principle, the damage should be periodically repaired."

In addition to this, severely damaged cells or those cells that can no longer divide commit suicide (apoptosis).

The body thinks something like this: why waste precious energy on cell repair? Our body is a waste material that can be sacrificed. The genes from our reproducing cells will live in our offspring.

The many - headed HydraThe main factors affecting life expectancy are genetics and metabolism.

A few live to 100 years or more thanks to special genes that control the aging process. The metabolism of mice is much higher than that of turtles. Therefore, mice live only three years, and turtles live up to 150 years. Therefore, the mouse should start reproducing offspring as early as possible, and it takes a century for turtles to do this.

The life span of some organisms can be changed by changing the level of metabolism. The metabolism of mice slows down in an environment where there is little food. If people eat less, it will slow down the metabolism very slightly and increase life expectancy, because our metabolism is already low. On the one hand, for significant changes, a person needs to reduce energy consumption by 30-50%, on the other, reducing the number of calories by more than 50% will significantly shorten our lives.

There are rare living organisms that live forever. For example, in jellyfish and hydra, reproducing cells are found throughout the body. All their energy is spent on the support and repair of these cells. Hydra can be cut into a hundred pieces, and a new hydra will grow out of each.

A complex and delicate matterAging is the process of accumulation of damage to macromolecules, cells, tissues and organs.

This process is very complicated. Everything is confusing, even the terminology, not to mention the processes themselves. For example, rejuvenation is far from the same as an increase in life expectancy. The first can be considered a 180-degree rotation of aging. It consists in repairing damage caused by aging and replacing damaged tissues. The second deals with the causes of aging and the fight against them. Rejuvenation can lead to an increase in life expectancy, but with an increase in life expectancy, rejuvenation is rarely used.

Scientists have now identified at least 8 important hormones that slow down aging. These are human growth hormones (HGH), sex hormones: testosterone and estrogen, erythropoietin, insulin, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), melatonin, thyroid and pregnenolone. Theoretically, if you replace at least some of these hormones, you can achieve a rejuvenation effect.

Most of the attempts at genetic repair traditionally consist in the use of retroviruses, with the help of which a new gene is placed anywhere on the chromosome.

Old age is the same disease as all other diseases. And diseases are treated.

The distant futureSpeaking about the search for the elixir of eternal youth and immortality in our days, it should be remembered that, despite the talk about numerous high-profile discoveries and breakthroughs (according to the scientists and journalists who made them), the work is at the earliest stage, in its infancy, and that the first drugs that can prolong a person's life or purposefully fight against in old age, they are unlikely to appear in this, or even the next decade.

For example, Linda Partridge, who heads researchers from the College of London and the Institute of Biological Aging in Cologne, one of the most authoritative experts in the field of gerontology, believes that the first drugs will appear no earlier than 2020. Moreover, they will not be an elixir of eternal youth or immortality. They will treat and prevent diseases associated with old age, and thus prolong life. We are not talking about immortality, but about increasing life expectancy and expanding the active age to very deep gray hairs.

Mice with telomeraseDespite the fact that it is a long time to wait for the appearance of medicines for old age, there are some successes already now.

One of the causes of physical degeneration associated with aging are telomeres, pieces of DNA at the ends of chromosomes. With each cell division, they shorten. After the telomeres disappear, the cell stops dividing and dies.

The enzyme telomerase reverses this process. In November 2010, the journal Nature reported that scientists at Harvard Medical School injected telomerase into a group of mice suffering from senile degeneration. The damage has disappeared. The mice not only began to feel better, but also became younger.

This is not the first time scientists have turned to telomerase, but previously all experiments were conducted on the simplest organisms. The merit of Professor Ronald Depigno is that he was the first to show its possibilities in increasing life expectancy for complex mammals.

Two months after the introduction of telomerase, the brain volume of the experimental elderly mice, whose internal organs in terms of our language corresponded to 80 years, returned to normal. Even more surprising was the return of the almost completely lost reproductive ability of rodents, which began to give large offspring. And this is not to mention the fact that mice receiving telomerase lived longer than their relatives who did not receive this enzyme.

Random discoveriesMost medicines that have at least some relation to the problem of prolonging life were originally intended for completely different purposes.

There is no need to go far for examples. Three months ago, the accidental discovery of the elixir of youth by NASA scientists was announced.

We are talking about a drink for astronauts – AS10, which, in addition to protection from radiation, is able to fight some signs of aging.

At the beginning of the human experiment at the University of Utah, skin images were taken of 180 volunteers using the Visia device, which allows them to "look" under the human skin. Then they took AS10 twice a day for 4 months. At the end of the experiment, it turned out that UV spots decreased by 30%, and wrinkles – by 17%.

AS10 is a food additive based on a mixture of kupauku, acai, acerola cherry, prickly pear and yumberry berries. In addition, the preparation includes grapes, green tea, pomegranate and vegetables.

Scientists at Durham University, led by Chris Hutchinson, claim to have found a way to slow down the aging of individual cells. The professor developed a drug that slowed down the aging of cells taken from children with progeria. This is a rare genetic disease in which cells age 8-10 times faster. As a result, patients quickly turn into old people and die between the ages of 8 and 21.

By the way, it is believed that the basis of the successfully filmed story of the American writer Scott Fitzgerald "The Mysterious Story of Benjamin Button" is just progeria.

The discovery of British scientists is based on a medicine used to treat not senile, but infectious diseases accompanied by increased viscosity of sputum, as well as otitis media, rhinitis and sinusitis. Professor Hutchinson found out that acetylcysteine (ACC) is also able to slow down the aging process of cells. He believes that in the future, a drug based on ADC will significantly alleviate the suffering of progeria patients and, it is possible, will help them live longer.

Exactly a year ago, scientists from Harvard Medical School discovered the elixir of youth on Easter Island. It is on the basis of Streptomyces hygroscopicus bacteria from the Streptomyces family found on this Chilean island that rapamycin, an effective medicine against progeria, is made.

As usual, the anti-aging abilities of rapamycin were discovered by accident. It turned out that rapamycin not only weakens the rejection of foreign organs by the body during transplantation, but also suppresses the activity of damaged proteins that lead to aging. All cells that received rapamycin had an increased life expectancy.

Rapamycin successfully fights another important factor of aging – the ability of cells to remove waste, which weakens over time. After treatment with this drug, the cells got rid of waste products much more energetically.

Growth HormoneMany gerontology specialists consider human growth hormone (HGH) to be the elixir of youth.

It has become the latest fashion in Hollywood, where the largest percentage of people dream of eternal youth. People familiar with the Dream Factory claim that any actor, producer, cameraman, etc., who is over 50 and who has a highly developed musculature, takes HGH. Injections of this hormone are not hidden by Sylvester Stallone, Nick Nolte and Oliver Stone.

Doctors consider HGH, which produces the pituitary gland, one of the most important hormones in the human body. The blood carries it to almost all organs. It is responsible for processes related to strength and growth, protein formation and repair of damaged tissues.

With age, the pituitary gland produces less and less HGH. It is believed that between 40 and 60 years, its volume decreases by a quarter. Scientists believe that a decrease in HGH is one of the causes of aging.

In the first half of the last century, scientists used rBGH, a cow growth hormone, which was purified and given to patients with type I diabetes and children with growth hormone deficiencies.

Doctors from Tufts University began extracting HGH in 1958 from corpses. Every year the number of patients he helped grew.

In 1981, the American pharmaceutical company Genentech released the first synthetic version of human growth hormone. The medicine is sold only by prescription and is prescribed to patients with growth hormone deficiency, but not related to old age, but for other reasons. In adults, by the way, unlike children, deficiency of this hormone, most often associated with pituitary adenoma, is extremely rare.

Elixir of youth from BelarusScientists from Belarus, who worked together with American colleagues, also claim to have found the elixir of youth.

They drew attention to the fact that polyunsaturated fatty acids carry free radicals that destroy DNA and cause aging and replaced hydrogen atoms with a harmless deuterium isotope. Experiments on bacteria were successful. Experiments on long-suffering mice are now in full swing. If they also give a positive result, then in 10 years it will be possible to wait for the Belarusian elixir of youth to appear in stores.

Rafael de Cabo from the National Institute of Aging believes that the life of overweight mice can be prolonged with the help of the drug SRT-1720, which reduces the amount of fat in the liver and increases insulin sensitivity. These and other advantages allowed experimental mice to live on average 44% longer than full rodents who did not receive the drug. Even more promising, according to Kabo, is the SRT-2104.

Both preparations are made on the basis of resveratrol, a natural phytoalexin found in grapes and a number of other fruits, as well as cocoa and nuts. Its main function is to protect plants from parasites. Resveratrol has anti-inflammatory and antitumor properties, lowers blood sugar levels and has other positive effects on the body. Previously, experiments on its effect on the life expectancy of invertebrates and simple fish brought contradictory results. However, Professor Kabo's research lasted three years, so there is no doubt about his accuracy.

Portal "Eternal youth" http://vechnayamolodost.ru31.08.2012

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