The quest to slow and finally stop aging is as old as human culture. However, according to a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences , aging is inevitable and there is nothing we can do to stop it. Confirmed by mathematics.
Aging something is natural: human, fruit fly or lion. But that doesn’t mean we should like it. In fact, most consider aging undesirable, which is why scientists have spent centuries investigating methods to interfere with this process and keep us younger longer.
To investigate the possibility of this Holy Grail, several scientists put their mathematical minds to work and started with the question: “Is it mathematically possible to prevent aging?”
In terms of our current understanding of the aging process, there is hope that we may one day lessen the negative cellular effects of time. One theoretical method would be to somehow remove “dormant” cells that are linked to aging while maintaining normal cells.
In theory, this sounds good. But as the experts explain, it is not that simple. As we age, some cells stop working; hair cells become soft, for example, causing hearing loss.
But at the other end of the scale of activity, some cells begin to work overtime. These unnecessarily busy cells can become cancerous. And almost all of us, at some point in our lives, will develop cancer cells as we age, even if they don’t cause any problems.
“As you age, most of your cells shrink and lose function, and they also stop growing. But some of your cells are growing like crazy. What we show is that if you get rid of those dormant cells that malfunction, then that allows cancer cells to proliferate, and if you get rid of those cancer cells or slow them down, that allows inactive cells to accumulate, “explains Paul Nelson, co-author of the work.
“ We’re caught between allowing these dormant cells to accumulate or allowing cancer cells to proliferate, and if you do one, you can’t do the other. You can’t do both at the same time,” Nelson clarifies.
Thus, aging is an “incontrovertible truth” and “an intrinsic property of being multicellular”.
The authors believe that evolution has failed to beat aging for the same reason that humans don’t have lasers coming out of their eyeballs or the ability to pass through walls – it just isn’t possible.
According to the mathematics, we can end up making things worse if we try to solve the problem of aging: “We have a mathematical proof of why it is impossible to solve both problems,” says Joanna Massel, co-author of the study.
As a result, science can slow down aging, but it cannot stop it. “It’s something you have to deal with if you want to be a multicellular organism ,” concludes Nelson.
Reference: Paul Nelson el al., “Intercellular competition and the inevitability of multicellular aging,” PNAS Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (2017). pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1618854114