Life expectancy is a key indicator of the health and well-being of a population. Throughout history, mankind has made tremendous strides in extending life spans, going from about 40 years in the 1800s to about 80 years today. We undoubtedly have to thank the advances in medicine, science and technology that have allowed us to prevent and treat some of the main causes of death.
Despite this progress, however, there is still work to be done. On balance, aging is still the leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 100.000+ deaths every day. Aging multiplies all risk factors, as you can imagine. For example, the risk of having a heart attack having high blood pressure "simply" doubles, while being 80 years old instead of 40 multiplies the risk tenfold. As the world's elderly population increases, the number of deaths and suffering caused by aging will continue to rise. That's why we need a breakthrough: We need to work to protect our health as we get older.
But does it have to go like this?
Whatever improvised philosophers, fatalists and anti-scientists say about it, it is not written anywhere that the amount of suffering and death associated with old age must necessarily increase, or that it is "inevitable", even desirable. Our chances of seeing one or more revolutionary treatments in the next few years are growing they target the very biology of old age. Scientists have a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying aging, such as DNA damage and damaged proteins, and have ideas on how to deal with them. What's even more exciting is that one of the first treatments of its kind could show results this year.
It is not a "cabal": we must and can prepare for a future in which aging will no longer be an insurmountable challenge.
In the viewfinder the senescent cells
The greatest of the challenges is to get rid of these cells which, according to studies, can cause various diseases such as macular degeneration (a cause of blindness) and pulmonary fibrosis. More generally, senescent cells (accumulating in the body as we age) appear to drive and worsen the entire aging process. Currently, more than twenty companies around the world are looking for solutions to the problem. Among the various paths taken, that of "senolitics" is attracting the attention of experts: this type of drug is strongly candidate to become one of the first solutions to seriously combat the damage of aging.
Among these stands out Unity Biotechnology, that matters investors like Jeff Bezos. The startup is experimenting with a series of senolytic drugs to combat various pathologies: for some of them (such as those that act on the eye) it is already in phase 2 studies on humans. Other approaches under study lead to small proteins that specifically target senescent cells, vaccines that encourage the immune system to kill them, and even gene therapy. to develop it, we talked about it here, and the Oisín Biotechnologies (company that ambitiously takes its name from an Irish mythological character linked to eternal youth).
Eliminating senescent cells could pave the way for innovative treatments to prevent or delay aging and its health consequences. If I were someone who likes to gamble, I would say that this is where we will soon see major developments.
Because there could be a turning point already this year
The advent of a first treatment for the removal of senescent cells would have a strong domino effect: it could certainly start to slow down the aging process, but it would open up to much larger investments, which could one day stop or even reverse the degenerative process .
The first, interesting paper in this field is already 5 years old. In 2018 scientists have proven, in mice, that a combination of dasatinib (an anticancer drug) e Quercetin (a molecule found in fruits and vegetables) may increase longevity and reduce the risk of disease. Not only do guinea pigs live longer, but they're also less fragile and have thicker, shinier fur. They were also able to run farther and faster on the small treadmills used in the tests. It is likely that such a "cocktail" will be the first to break the human testing barrier, opening up the treatment of several chronic diseases.
Not just senolytics
As much as they seem to be the current "top of the class", i senolytics they are not the only option. There are already other approaches already in human trials that could prove to be just as effective. Proclara Biosciences he is experimenting with the protein GAIM, which aims to eliminate other proteins, the "amyloid" ones which, with their accumulation, lead to various diseases. Verve Therapeutics, on the other hand, is working on a gene therapy to reduce cholesterol by modifying the gene PCSK9. Novartis is also doing the same with a drug already adopted by the English health service, theInclisiran.
Probably the first true antiaging medicine will target a specific disease related to aging, rather than aging in general. And the success of a drug aimed at an aspect of aging will be the real turning point, because it will raise the bar of all research in the field. It will trigger a revolution unprecedented since the invention of antibiotics: a revolution capable of giving life to a medicine that aims to prevent diseases rather than cure them.
It is important to reiterate two things which unfortunately, while seeming obvious, still arouse controversy and misunderstanding. First: Slowing, stopping, or even reversing aging IS NOT immortality. For many reasons we would continue to die, so we should stop considering this thing as a mythological or impossible goal. You don't live forever. Second, even if incontrovertible results of these drugs arrive in 2023, it does not mean that these therapies will be available to the general public in the short term: the most probable hypothesis is that we are for twenty years from seeing its mass applications.
All the more reason, however, it is better to reach the first goal as soon as possible: a breakthrough that orients medicine in a compact and decisive way. Because a good start is half done.