Does Alphaville’s obnoxious 1980s hit “Forever Young” ring a bell? If its lyrics still resonate with you, here’s some good news: While getting older is inevitable, its effects may actually be preventable or reversible.
Real longevity may be possible if we can deconstruct the true meaning of “aging” and pursue a solution accordingly. Technically speaking, aging can be more accurately described as the act of progressive deterioration within the biological world. It is a genetic process.
At the recent 2015 ideacity conference in Toronto, a range of experts offered their insights into the latest ways of combatting the aging process—through epigenetics, stem cell therapies, diet and more. Here’s a brief recap of two of their presentations.
In her talk “Combatting Age and Age-Related Disease,” epigeneticist Dr. Olga Kovalchuk explained that in the developing world aging is inaccurately considered a social construct (for example, the age of retirement and the desire to combat age for superficial reasons). She stressed that we should be focusing on fighting age in the sense that we are fighting age-related manifestations. What is important—not only to note, but also to combat—is the connection between aging and age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease and various musculoskeletal issues.
Dr. Kovalchuk’s proposed solution is tied to epigenetics (the study of cellular changes caused by gene expression) in maternal supplements. Lab rats in clinical studies were given vitamins that actually resulted in noticeable lowered risk of cancer, diabetes and obesity, as well as in prolonged life. Similar studies have shown that epigenetic changes can govern the way that genes manifest.
Although her theory is irrelevant to current life forms (we cannot change our own genes), it is still exemplary proof that epigenetics is what Dr. Kovalchuk calls a “science of hope.” One additional note: Dr. Kovalchuk mentioned that Canada Cancer and Aging Research Laboratories is developing a platform called OncoFinder, which monitors drug efficiencies in individuals, with positive results in certain cases.
During his presentation “Stem Cell Therapies to Delay Aging,” molecular geneticist Dr. Barry Merriman explained the major role stem cells might play in actually delaying aging, due to their ability to produce functional cells.
“As the stem cells age in you, all sorts of bad things happen. You don’t have enough to replace damaged tissue and the replacement process becomes flawed and maybe makes scar-type tissue instead of fully functional tissue,” he explained.
Dr. Merriman noted a groundbreaking experimental osteoporosis test in which mice were prevented from developing osteoporosis early on and lived 30% longer. He stated that the osteoporosis test “leads to a whole additional theory of aging, which is that aging could be in large part a stem cell exhaustion disease. We are exhausting our repositories of stem cells.”
To put it bluntly, the theoretical solution to aging, which Dr. Merriman proposed, is for us to fill ourselves up with as many stem cells as possible. Older generations could be infused with stem cells from younger generations. If banked at birth, one’s own umbilical cord blood is the best source for stem cells. Alternatively, stem cells in the placenta are not immunogenic—meaning they can be shared from body to body—which makes them the most promising stem-cell infusion option to pursue in future research.
MaRS is affiliated with multiple companies that are working toward long-term health solutions and providing aid to older demographics.
ideacity is an annual three-day conference hosted by Moses Znaimer. Channelling the TED Talk series, the conference covers a broad variety of topics delivered by innovative thinkers from around the world. Both Dr. Kovalchuk’s and Dr. Merriman’s presentations can be viewed on the ideacity archive.