In a new study into advancing the longevity of humans it was found that in the healthy white blood cells of a 115-year-old woman, there were over 400 mutations.
Of course genetic mutations have been linked to diseases such as cancer, but these new findings by researchers suggest that mutations in white blood cells are largely harmless over a lifetime. And may have beneficial effects on ageing. Blood is continually replenished by hematopoietic (meaning “to make blood”) stem cells that are inside our bone marrow and divide to produce different types of blood cells. Cell division can lead to genetic mutations and hundreds of mutations have been found in patients with blood cancers. However, until recently little was known about white blood cells and mutations. Because they weren’t harmful, they weren’t studied.
The woman in the study was the oldest person in the world when she died in 2005 at 115 years old. She is also thought to be the oldest person ever to donate her body to science. The hundreds of mutations identified in her white blood cells appeared to be tolerated by the body and did not cause any disease.
The researchers also found possible new insight into the limits of human longevity, according to the authors of the study published on-line April 23 in the journal Genome Research.
Lead author Dr. Henne Holstege (pictured below) said in a journal news release:
“To our great surprise we found that, at the time of her death, the peripheral blood was derived from only two active hematopoietic stem cells (in contrast to an estimated 1,300 simultaneously active stem cells), which were related to each other. Because these blood cells had extremely short telomeres, we speculate that most hematopoietic stem cells may have died from ‘stem cell exhaustion,’ reaching the upper limit of stem cell divisions.”
The researchers also found that the woman’s white blood cells’ telomeres were extremely short. Telomeres, which are at the ends of chromosomes and protect them from damage, get a bit shorter each time a cell divides. Further research is needed to learn whether such stem cell exhaustion is a cause of death in extremely old people.
The next step will be to see if the white blood cell mutations can be artificially produced, and their effect on longevity, and whether avoiding stem cell exhaustion is feasible, thus prolonging life.
In a recent study by Harvard Medical School, which used data going back to the 1970s, Professor of medicine Francine Grodstein concluded that “diet makes a difference”. Plain and simple.
“The higher our body weight and body mass index, the less likely we are to live older, happier, healthier lives,” she said.
Well you may have preferred to hear about a breakthrough in a longevity magic bullet, or transferring DNA from animals that live for over 150 years to humans, but there’s no getting away from it. If you reduce your food intake by just a fifth, you will live a longer life. This has been shown in animals too- reducing bodyweight by 20% in mice increased their lifespans.
William Mair, HSPH assistant professor of genetics and complex diseases, said a study that has gained a lot of attention found that reducing body weight by 20 percent in mice increased their longevity. It is even true for insects such as the fruit fly.
By cutting down our food intake and body mass, we won’t live forever, but the quality of life should be better for longer. In other words all the morbidities that can afflict us will be pushed back to the last years of our lives.
Turning to avoiding mental disease, a promising area in warding off dementia involves taking up a personal challenge such as learning to play an instrument or to speak another language, said Thomas Perls, a Boston University professor of medicine and director of the New England Centenarian Study. However building up these mental functional reserves that seem to stave off or delay dementia don’t seem to apply to everyone. The brainiest most mentally advanced people can still succumb to dementia.
There has been a buzz in the “can we extend human lives to 200 years” department following the catching of a 200 year old Shortracker Rockfish off Alaska’s coast. That fish was born there two centuries ago- before Alaska was a US State. It is the oldest Shortracker ever caught. It must also have been very lucky because many are hunted and eaten by predatory fish and so never see out their full life-span.
With advances in stem cell research and DNA, this is yet another animal, like the naked mole rat, that may harbour secrets as to how we could manipulate our bodies to reduce ageing and promote longevity. Like the mole rat, this fish is no beauty to look at. It looks like a bloated shimmering orange goldfish.
Rockfish are some of the world’s oldest living fish, matched only by equally long-lived fish like the sturgeon, an ancient fish found in North America that can live to be more than a century old. There must be something special in the fish’s make up, because even discounting accidental death and being eaten by other fish or caught for food, most species of fish only live 2-8 years.
The previous record age for a caught rockfish was about 175-years-old, and that fish, at about 32.5-inches-long, was smaller than this latest catch.
Let’s hope the fish is donated now to scientific longevity research, and not end up in a fish pie!
There’s a lot in the news at the moment about the search for immortality. People are living longer, and they say that someone has already been born that will live to be 150-200 years old. In fact the main funders for the search for immortality are billionaires. When you stop and think and think about it, the reasons is obvious. They have more to lose when they die. You can’t take it with you! The most you can do is bequeath it to your heirs.. and you won’t be able to see them enjoy it. So billionaires want to live longer so they can enjoy their wealth for longer. That’s why they spend so much on research, looking for the elixir of eternal life.
Was it always the way that the rich sought paths to immortality to longer enjoy their richness? Yes. But they got ripped off a lot more!
In ancient China many all-powerful emperors died from consuming mercury-based potions given to them under the promise that it would make them live forever. Mercury is indeed a strange-looking substance- a shiny silver liquid metal. Looks like it could be the elixir of life… but no. It gives a slow and agonising departure from this world.
Fast-forward to 1492. There on his deathbed was Pope Innocent VIII. Three 10 year old boys were paid a ducat each to donate their blood to try to keep the old god-botherer alive. The boys died. And of course so did the Pontiff- probably from blood poisoning. I wonder which of them went to heaven?
During the next two centuries centuries, it was the turn of thousands of European alchemists to hoodwink and swindle rich aristocrats with bogus potions for eternal life. These elixirs (which often included mercury and arsenic) often gave off noxious and poisonous vapours that would eventually kill the alchemist (as well as failing to prolong the life of the Aristo).
After World War I, thousands of rich old men (probably the donkeys who led the lions) opted for a more biological and glandular fountain of youth. They arranged for chimpanzee testicles to be grafted into their scrotums at Sergei Voronoff’s exclusive medical clinic on the French Riviera. Ouch. Must have been an issue for the undertaker- whether to remove the clearly failed extra-testicular activity, or leave it for all to see as they lay naked in the coffin! In the picture below Sergei and his brother George perform their quad-gonads operation.
In 1971, researchers declared that science would unravel all the mysteries of ageing within five years. All you needed was the appropriate injection of finance… Alas, that didn’t come to be. In fact five years later all we got was the San Francisco Chronicle reporting that “human life could be extended to 800 years.” That same year, an outfit called Microwave Instrument Co. in Del Mar, California, said they’d have immortality drugs on the market within three years. They saw a connection between agitating the molecules of blood through microwaves and immortality. Oops. Next!
It would seem that, if scientists, researchers, biologists and clinicians are to be believed, we should have found cures for many, if not all, of the things that kills us, in about a century. That’s Alzheimer’s, cancers, degenerative diseases, and even ageing. So in a 100 years time, there we all are, not growing old, not falling ill, and virtually immortal. What will we do? Go out and enjoy the rest of our lives, secure in the knowledge that we will not die. Unless of course we suffer an accident.
As good as surgery and medicine will be in 100 years time, it will not be able to bring you back from the dead if you suffer a fatal accident. Drowning at sea, a nasty pile-up on the motorway, a plane crash, a fire, a fall off of a ladder that cause brain trauma- the list is almost endless. What would we do to avoid accidentally terminating our immortality? Here’s a (admittedly pessimistic) take on this:
We would try to avoid all situations where a fatal accident could occur. Why risk shortening your never-ending life-span? We would become a world of risk-avoiders. Why risk travelling to a foreign land? Just watch it on TV in your secure air-tight protected shell of a world. Why risk physical inter-action with other humans? Many of them are mad, or dangerous, so why risk it? Contact them solely through the internet video. Much safer. Physical activity? No thanks! Cycling, driving, running, all could lead to an accident or some sort that threatens your one trillion tomorrows.
We would all settle into comfy armchairs alone in a room secure from the perils outside the door. The future a lonely sedentary existence that is really half-life. A life without the potential for danger is a life without the potential for quality. A living death?