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Researchers are on the trail of the secret of aging
Experts say that average life expectancy in western industrialized countries will soon exceed 90 years. In other countries, too, people live much longer today than a few decades ago. But can life expectancy continue to increase and possibly even slow aging? German researchers are trying to find answers.
Humans are getting older
The life expectancy of Germans has reached a record level in recent years and will continue to increase. One in four newborn girls today will be over 100 years old. In other countries, too, people are getting older on average. Some scientists now even think that human life expectancy can be increased tenfold. Others speculate as to whether the biological clock can be tricked at some point and whether common diseases such as dementia, Parkinson's, cancer or cardiovascular diseases can be overcome in the future.
Mitochondria play a central role in aging
“All humans age - just like almost all other living organisms. One reason for this is that the genetic material DNA is damaged more and more over time in every cell, ”says the website of the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Aging.
Scientists at the institute are researching "how cells age over the course of their lives, which genes are involved and what role environmental factors play."
As the dpa news agency reports, the researchers are studying mitochondria. The small structures, which are also called power plants of the cells, play a central role in aging, according to the new MPI director Thomas Langer.
In the agency announcement, he explains his mission: "That we better understand aging on a biological and molecular level and that we can better treat age-related diseases in the medium term."
According to the biologist, it is clear that the “mitos” lose their performance with increasing age and that this has harmful consequences.
Now it is time to research how this damage in the cell components can be prevented - with potentially life-prolonging effects.
Significant change in lifespan
"In model organisms, a significant change in the lifespan can be achieved by manipulating individual cellular processes," the expert told dpa.
Model organisms such as roundworms, fruit flies or mice therefore last much longer under certain tested conditions.
These animals are particularly well suited for the studies, "because their genes are known and they have a relatively short life expectancy," says the institute's website.
Massive life extension through medical progress
Above all, medical progress over the past 100 years has contributed to a massive prolongation of life.
According to the Federal Statistical Office, around 4.9 million people in Germany are at least 80 years old, and by 2050 it should be almost ten million.
Nevertheless, according to an investigation by the mathematician Hansjörg Walther, there is no need to be afraid of an aging society.
As the expert said, according to dpa, there are "very promising studies in which you could achieve life extensions in mice, but only in a model experiment."
He still sees "a lot of potential" here, but at the moment it would "not be correct to say that we could apply this to humans in the foreseeable future."
Walther does not want to participate in speculations about the maximum age that can be reached, but he certainly does not think "that we have reached an end point in terms of lifespan."
Quality of life of greater importance
According to the medical ethicist Christiane Woopen, the quality of life "becomes more important than the length of life at least from a certain age."
As the chairwoman of the European Ethics Council (EGE) said, science and medicine are about avoiding severe physical and mental suffering. Prolonging life is not the primary goal.
"In view of human nature, which, in addition to autonomy and creative power, is also characterized by vulnerability, limitations and dependency, I don't believe in the possibility of immortality on this earth," says the expert, according to dpa.
But she also made it clear: "We have to think about the social consequences and the conditions of our living together when people can get older and older."
According to Woopen, the current structure of life courses is absurd: "The first decades are a single racetrack to breathlessly end up on the side lane for decades after leaving work," said the medical ethicist. (ad)