The dream of some people has been that we can slow down, stop, or even reverse the aging process. Amelia Hill writes about recent research that argues that the aging process is unstoppable.
Backed by governments, business, academics and investors in an industry worth $110bn (£82.5bn) – and estimated to be worth $610bn by 2025 – scientists have spent decades attempting to harness the power of genomics and artificial intelligence to find a way to prevent or even reverse ageing.
But an unprecedented study has now confirmed that we probably cannot slow the rate at which we get older because of biological constraints.
The study, by an international collaboration of scientists from 14 countries and including experts from the University of Oxford, set out to test the “invariant rate of ageing” hypothesis, which says that a species has a relatively fixed rate of ageing from adulthood.
“We compared birth and death data from humans and non-human primates and found this general pattern of mortality was the same in all of them,” said Aburto. “This suggests that biological, rather than environmental factors, ultimately control longevity.
David Gems, a professor of biogerontology at UCL’s Institute of Healthy Ageing, said that the summary of the report suggested the research was “a very high-powered study proving something contentious and surely right”.
All the datasets examined by Aburto’s teams revealed the same general pattern of mortality: a high risk of death in infancy which rapidly declines in the immature and teenage years, remains low until early adulthood, and then continually rises in advancing age.
“Our findings confirm that, in historical populations, life expectancy was low because many people died young,” said Aburto. “But as medical, social, and environmental improvements continued, life expectancy increased.
“More and more people get to live much longer now. However, the trajectory towards death in old age has not changed,” he added. “This study suggests evolutionary biology trumps everything and, so far, medical advances have been unable to beat these biological constraints.”
Apart from the scientific aspect, there are the other aspects to consider. Declines in infant mortality is a good thing and as a result, more people are living to old age. Society has generally been able to adapt to that change. But the more affluent countries are already facing the problem of an aging population and increasing lifespans even more because of other changes will undoubtedly make it more acute.
The second issue is that it is not just age but the quality of life that is important. I suspect that most people are like me and would likely enjoy the prospect of living longer but only if they were able to retain their mental and physical capabilities.