During the 1960s, when cancer research was in its infancy, the goal was to prevent tumors from spreading and improve patients’ lives. The causes of cancer were not interesting to anyone. The doctors said, “People get old, and some get cancer, so we have to help them as best we can.” New disciplines, such as immunotherapy and new drugs, have led to a 20% reduction in global cancer deaths. It is a victory that has brought millions of lives.
Research into the aging process is at the same stage as cancer research in the 1960s. Trying to eradicate aging is perceived as futile and viewed with hostility, even though it is the leading cause of mortality worldwide.
What are some common causes of aging?
Cause 1: Damage to the DNA and genome. A chain of information called DNA allows the body to manufacture. All information in DNA is in our genes, and all of our genes (between 25,000 and 30,000) are called the genome. With age, our DNA gets damaged and changes the code that allows cells to reproduce, which causes diseases.
Cause 2: Epigenetic modifications. Genetics is the study of genes, and epigenetics is the study of DNA. Every cell in the body has the same genetic information, but some will give the skin, others the brain, and others the kidney. Scientists believe epigenetic alterations cause diseases of aging, including cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.
Cause 3: Protein misfolding. Once the protein is correct, it fulfills its role. If this is impossible, the proteins will damage the cells and contaminate them. A protein causes Parkinson’s disease to be misfolded.
Cause 4: Dysfunction of the mitochondria. They are the ‘powerhouses of cells,’ producing 90% of the energy that cells, tissues, and organs need to function. Mitochondria contain their genes. Disorders affecting the brain and muscles are associated with abnormal genes.
Cause 5: Stem cell depletion. The essential cells of any organ are generated from stem cells. The body stores them and uses them when necessary. Some animals, like lizards, use them to regenerate a limb. In the heart and pancreas, some human organs do not contain stem cells and cannot heal themselves. As we age, our body retains fewer stem cells, and their decrease accelerates tissue degradation.