What Is Aging?
If you are completely new to aging research, we recommend that you ease your way into this complex field by starting with the basics.
Put simply, aging is a series of processes that include direct damage, accumulation of cellular waste, errors, and imperfect repairs as well as the responses to them. These processes result in the familiar signs of aging and ultimately to the development of age-related diseases that eventually kill us.
The hallmarks of aging
There are multiple aging theories, but one of the most popular and well supported is the Hallmarks of Aging, a 2013 paper that defined aging as nine distinct categories (hallmarks) and explained how these interact with each other to drive the development of age-related diseases. This framework gives researchers insights into how they might directly intervene against these aging processes to prevent age-related diseases.
If you would like to learn more about each of the hallmarks, you can find more information by clicking on one of the hallmarks below.
Treating the hallmarks of aging to prevent age-related diseases
Current medical practice treats all diseases through an infectious disease model; however, this approach performs poorly against age-related diseases, which have different fundamental causes.
The current approach works like this: as soon as a disease appears, the doctor attacks the disease using everything in the medical armory, and the patient can then continue with life until the next disease pops up, after which this process is repeated. This is a great way to deal with infectious diseases, and it has helped to increase life expectancy greatly in the last century.
However, this “whack-a-mole” approach is a poor choice when it comes to treating the chronic diseases of old age. This is because the damage that the aging processes cause still continues to take its toll; therefore, treating the symptoms will ultimately achieve very little and certainly not cure the related diseases. This is why older people frequently have multiple chronic conditions and have to take various drugs to manage them.
When you think about it, it is obvious why using an infectious disease model to treat the diseases of old age is never going to work: the processes of aging are the foundation of every single age-related disease.
Treating the underlying hallmarks of aging and repairing their damage, which leads to the familiar diseases of old age, is the basis for the medical approach known as rejuvenation biotechnology, a multidisciplinary approach that aims to prevent and treat age-related diseases by targeting the aging processes directly. By repairing the underlying damage, it may be possible to keep tissues and organs biologically younger and healthier and thus prevent or reverse the dieseases of old age.
Is aging too complex to understand?
A common misconception is that aging is too complex for us to understand, but, during the last decade or so, researchers have made great inroads into improving our understanding of aging and the processes that drive it. While it is absolutely correct that science has yet to fully understand these processes and their mechanisms, current research has led us to a fundamental understanding of aging.
The hallmarks of aging themselves are quite likely not the full story of aging, but what they do provide is solid foundation for researchers to progress. It is likely that as time passes, the hallmarks of aging will evolve as new things are learned and previous ideas are updated.
Advances in computer technology, particularly deep learning, are significantly helping researchers to understand the aging processes and the potential solutions to them. Deep learning is a subset of machine learning in which artificial neural networks, algorithms that are inspired by our own brains, learn from large sets of data. Deep learning can solve highly complex problems even if the data is very diverse, unstructured and interconnected, making it ideally suited to understand aging.
We have sufficient knowledge to begin developing therapies and treatments that target the hallmarks of aging in order to prevent age-related diseases, and this is the focus of researchers who are working on making rejuvenation biotechnology the new way of treating age-related diseases. Researchers are working on solutions to each of these hallmarks right now, and you can see how progress is going by checking out the Rejuvenation Roadmap.
And finally, if you would like to learn more about aging you can do so by visiting our biology of aging knowledge hub.