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Avoiding the Unavoidable: Aging

AgingThe aging process is impossible to avoid, and each and one of us will at one point experience it. Over the past centuries, death has been delayed due to the overall population reaching old age with greater health, thus leading to higher life expectancies.  As the elderly population increases, it is very important to understand the best way to keep the elderly healthy and decrease the number of those suffering from diseases commonly observed in old age, such as cancers, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. Scientists have various theories that can be used to explain the process of aging.

The stem cell theory is based on the idea that the overall aging process occurs as various types of stem cells lose their ability to replenish tissues with the fully functioning differentiastem cellted cells that maintain the tissues’ and organs’ normal function. This theory argues that the process is not directly a result of the increase in damage, but rather the inability to repair it due to the large decrease in the number of stem cells.

Studies conducted at Harvard Stem Cell Institute explain that, although stem cells cannot be described as the ‘fountain of youth’, they help in determining disease origins and reveal new strategies for repair that help people live healthier, more productive lives. The scientists have found that the protein GDF11 (Growth differentiation factor 11) , which acts as a cytokine, was able to quickly reverse symptoms of heart failure in older mice. These experiments, known as parabiosis experiments, involve the injection of blood from young mice into much older mice while they both share a circulatory system, which means the two living organisms are joined together surgically and develop one single circulatory system.  The aforementioned protein, present in the blood of the young mice, seems to have enabled the quick reversal of symptoms for heart failure in the older mice.

By having access to blood from the younger mouse, there is a chance that age related cardiac problems could be reversed in the older mouse. The studies have shown improvements in brain and skeletal muscle function in aging mice. Additionally, they have shown that failing hearts in aging mice can be made to appear more like those of young health mice.

Since the protein is found in humans as well, experiments in this field are highly important in allowing us to understand the aging process better, as well as enabling scientists to intervene with new therapeutic options. Although more research is needed, this is a great start with strong potential for the future.

Editor: Shreya Singireddy