None of us can avoid the effects of aging, though many of us try in various ways, through cosmetics or nutrition and wellness products. Though these things may slow or disguise the progression of age-related effects, the health-related issues of aging remain. For the most part, researchers have had little luck developing treatments to postpone, ameliorate, or prevent the accumulation of diseases throughout one’s life. People may be living longer, but it's often with a reduced quality of life due to age-related diseases.
Recently, researchers have begun to explore the basic mechanisms of aging from the cellular level to the systemic level in order to develop new strategies to prevent age-related issues and better understand them. Last week's edition of Science took a look at some of the results.
At the cellular level
Aging represents the failure to balance genetic programs for survival and reproduction once an individual has survived beyond the age of peak reproductive fitness. Though all of our cells are important, some cells are more important than others. In particular, scientists have focused their attention on understanding how aging affects a specific, critical population of our cells—stem cells. Stem cells are only a small portion of our cells, but they are able to replicate themselves indefinitely and are able to transform into specific cell types (such as a bone cell or heart cell) based on external cues.