“WE MUST BE ABLE … TO PUT THE BRAKES ON HUMAN AGING.”
THE IDEA THAT WE CAN EXTEND OUR LIVES far beyond a century conjures up images of humans stored in cryogenic chambers and decapitated heads preserved in jars, kept alive by humming machines – in other words, science fiction.
But if a new study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications is anything to go through, such a dramatically prolonged life is not a fantasy at all. The study, which combines data from blood tests and information on physical exercise to identify a new measure of “biological age.” The findings suggest that there is an aspect of human longevity that may be crucial if we are ever to reach our full potential. Contrary to intuition, it has nothing to do with illness or a lifestyle choice.
“What we’re saying here is that the strategy of reducing frailty, so reducing the burden of disease, has only an incremental ability to improve your life expectancy,” Peter Fedichev tells Inverse. Fedichev is the lead author of the study and a researcher at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. He is also a co-founder of the longevity startup Gero.
According to Fedichev and his team, humanity can do better than simply treat disease. In fact, if these results are validated, our species could begin to live for decades even longer than the maximum lifespan they determined: 150 years.
HERE’S THE VIEW – The study identifies patterns of aging and morbidity to extract the maximum possible “biological age” from humans. To do this, the researchers collected blood sample analysis data from 544,398 participants and combined it with Fitbit data from a separate, smaller subset of people. They then used the data to predict the onset of various diseases and to determine patterns in how people’s “biological age” seemed to change over time.
The “biological age” is essentially the age of the cells in your body, rather than their chronological age. To increase life expectancy, it is necessary to reduce biological age compared to chronological age. Various lifestyle choices can make a difference. If you start smoking, start a new exercise regimen, or even move to a more rural area, your biological age can decrease and increase over time. It does not remain constant.
As age increases and a more dynamic factor called “DOSI” increases, our ability to recover from disturbances deteriorates. Gero PTE. LIMITED.
In the new study, the researchers found that one factor appeared to drive individual fluctuations in biological age, a value the researchers call the “dynamic quantitative indicator of the body’s state.” To understand this measure, the researchers explain it like this: As you age, your rate of recovery from different stresses – be it illness, lack of sleep, or even hard exercise – slows down. In other words, it takes longer and longer to return to its baseline level of resilience. Therefore, people’s resistance to stress is the key to determining their longevity.
“If you don’t focus on loss of resilience, any medical intervention will fail,” the researchers write in the study.
WHY IT MATTERS: If medicine advances to the point where the diseases of aging can be cured, then researchers estimate that humans can age even longer than the maximum life expectancy they determined without addressing resilience: 120-150 years . Beyond that, our resilience deteriorates beyond the point of no return. Even the healthiest people who live longer and resist the onset of chronic diseases cannot expect to live beyond this age, they say, because their ability to recover would have been completely exhausted.
Now, 120 years of life is nothing to sniff out. But the researchers argue that if we find a way to address resilience rather than just the other issues that come with age that, to use Fedichev’s word, “disintegrate” us as organisms, then we could theoretically halt the aging process.
Fedichev tells Inverse a story he heard from another longevity researcher, Nil Brazilei, about a woman who was 105 years old and had smoked her entire life.
“All the other doctors would go to see her and ask, ‘Don’t you know that smoking is bad? Didn’t the doctors tell you? ‘”, He relates. She apparently replied, “Some of them have, and they’re all dead now.”
In other words, on an individual level, lifestyle factors may not always explain why we or do not live to old age. But resilience could.
WHAT’S NEXT: Fedichev and his co-authors don’t want to settle for the incremental increases in average life expectancy that can come from improvements in health. We already know, Fedichev says, that on average, people live longer if they have a good diet, exercise regularly, can avoid illness, and have high socioeconomic status (an important factor that is often overlooked). But people who live to extraordinary ages can also carry certain genes that predispose them to longevity.
And maybe, Fedichev says, those genes affect resilience.
If we can increase resilience, then we could extend life beyond the maximum that Fedichev and his colleagues identify here.
As part of their work at Gero, Fedichev and a team led by engineer Tim Pyrkov created an application, called GeroSense, that can calculate biological age using data provided by users. They hope to use the information they collect to measure resilience and ultimately find a solution to stop aging.
Among the factors they want to take a closer look at:
“What are the most nutritional and medical interventions and, finally, what are the genetic makeup variables that may or may not influence resilience?” Fedichev asks. “Because that would be the Holy Grail of aging.”
This, he says, could come very soon. “We should be able to use a drug that works against the same pathway … or do clinical trials or maybe develop something that is completely new and slow down human aging,” he says.
“I think it’s very reasonable to believe that [we will find it], in five years or more, with this resilience modifier.”
Summary: We investigated the dynamic properties of body state fluctuations along individual aging trajectories in a large longitudinal database of CBC measurements from a consumer diagnostic laboratory. To simplify the analysis, we use a linear logarithmic mortality estimate from the CBC variables as a single quantitative measure of the aging process, hereinafter referred to as the dynamic organism state indicator (DOSI). We observed that the widening of the DOSI distribution of the age-dependent population could be explained by a progressive loss of physiological resilience measured by the time of DOSI autocorrelation. Extrapolation of this trend suggested that DOSI recovery time and variance would diverge simultaneously at a critical point of 120 to 150 years of age, corresponding to a complete loss of resilience. The observation was immediately confirmed by independent analysis of the correlation properties of fluctuations in intraday physical activity levels collected by wearable devices. We conclude that criticality resulting in the end of life is an intrinsic biological property of an organism that is independent of stressors and signifies a fundamental or absolute limit of human life expectancy.