What is Biogerontology?

S. Mithra

The field of biogerontology focuses on the biology, physiology, and genetics of aging. This fairly new discipline investigates aging in cells, organs, and the whole body to the end of decreasing the harmful effects of aging, such as dementia, weakness, and deterioration. The early stages of research are involved with antioxidants, stem cells, free radicals, diet, and immunology. One day, biogerontologists hope to better understand how and why our bodies age so they can extend the length and quality of life.

Some initial research in biogerontology has focused on diet and antioxidants.
Some initial research in biogerontology has focused on diet and antioxidants.

Although scientists see the drastic effects aging has on organ function, strength, memory, healing, bone density, etc., they know very little about what happens in the body to trigger these changes. Biogerontologists want to make humans resist the seemingly inevitable loss of flexibility, sharp-mindedness, and degeneration that eventually leads to death. At this point, they have barely scraped the surface of the field, and it may be decades before their research has precipitated into implemented medical treatments.

Biogerontology studies aging.
Biogerontology studies aging.

One major course of research in biogerontology relies on stem cells. These are embryonic cells that have the unique quality of transforming themselves into different kinds of cells, such as skin, organ, or blood as the fetus develops. Well into adulthood, we continue to carry stem cells that rejuvenate old cells in the blood and brain, but gradually their numbers decrease. Scientists are currently experimenting with stem cells. In cancer, stem cells injected into bone marrow have helped regrow cells in animals. As well, stem cells in the brain contribute to neurogenesis, where new neurons are created, and this might lessen or reverse dementia.

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Medical researchers don't fully understand what happens in the body to precipitate the aging process.
Medical researchers don't fully understand what happens in the body to precipitate the aging process.

Another area of interest to biogerontology includes the effect of nutrients, vitamins, and diet on life span. For example, one study seems to show that, in animals like mice and monkeys, a diet of restricted calories leads to a significantly longer average life span with better elderly health. Synthetic antioxidant dietary supplements, a type of free radical, have had a beneficial effect on memory in mice as well.

The study of biogerontology is a relatively new field.
The study of biogerontology is a relatively new field.

Other avenues of inquiry keep presenting themselves to biogerontology. There are many years of intense research to be done on the effects of prolonged stress, chemicals called telomeres, and pollution, and the possibilities of gene therapy, skin treatments, and stem cell injections. In its most extreme form, the push for "curing" aging, heralded by activist Aubrey de Grey, seeks to educate the public and distribute anti-aging medicine to the general population.

Some biogerontologists focus on the emotional and mental issues that effect seniors.
Some biogerontologists focus on the emotional and mental issues that effect seniors.

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Discussion Comments

anon121480

The author of this article has clearly not listened to the aforementioned Aubrey de grey's lectures or read his book as he has discovered all seven forms of aging damage. Caloric restriction pills may work but will only moderately increase life span, while most drugs are not close to increasing life span as they messily affect the metabolism and not the damage caused by the organism.

anon6601

I nice little explanation of the relatively new field of biogerontology, and I'm glad you mentioned the work of Dr. Aubrey de Grey, from Cambridge.

However, I would take issue with your assertion that anti-aging therapies are decades away. Some in the medical community think that drugs which replicate the life-extension and health effects of Caloric restriction (a.k.a. CR mimetics) may be available with in the next 5-10 years.

That said, you are probably right that projects to reverse/arrest aging, like Dr. de Grey's SENS will take decades to fully accomplish.

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