Old Age or Cancer, take your pick

It seems that the aging process now needs to be described a little differently.  I’ve been waiting for a web link on this, having heard a teaser on the radio:  FuturePundit‘s on the ball.

 Why do we age? Why don’t our stem cells continue to divide to produce cells needed to repair and maintain the body? Three research groups at Harvard, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and at University of Michican have found very strong evidence that as cells age they make more of a protein that slows down cells in order to reduce the risk of cancer.

Well, there’s pee in my cornflakes…

Except, perhaps not.  Just as there are other therapies for aging bodies than stem-cell therapy and replacement organs (which as FuturePundit points out, ain’t really a going option for the CNS)… we are coming to realize that at least some cancers are caused not just by random errors, but also by viruses.

In the natural world, the body is almost completely defenseless against these critters, so a Devil’s Bargain of aging makes sense… especially since Devil’s Bargain, Part Two guarantees that the older animals tend to get eaten before their now-adult kids do.  But if we can continue to make progress on identifying which viruses cause which cancers, act against them… combined with numerous other post-diagnostic therapies, there is a going chance that we or our grandchildren could have our cake and eat it, too.

This ought to be front-page news: I can’t quite seem to figure out Aubrey De Grey and company hasn’t been interviewed a dozen times this week…

 UPDATE:  This, posted by a commenter on the FP site, suggests that Caloric Restriction (w/ optimal nutrition) markedly reduces ARF and Ink4, while simultaneously keeping down tumors, particularly in males.  However, CR appears to more rapidly age female reproductive tissue, for reasons unknown that may be species-specific.  This suggests to me that the Ink4 response may not be premeditated, but rather the body’s way of clamping down on cancer-forming tissue at the earliest stages.  AKA, your body doesn’t kill you slowly so that cancer won’t kill you quickly in the future, but rather, your body defends itself from a fast and nasty death (serving no pro-survival function) with a longer one (which, unpleasant as aged individuals may find it to be eaten by predators, still serves a pro-survival function).

This means that women who haven’t had kids yet may really want to think twice about CR.  With the genetic expression mapped out, however, this becomes something of an immediate and obvious imperative for men who hope to avoid widowing their wives early. 

(It also means that the old adage is true:  “A rich man should eat like a poor man if he wants to live a long life.”)

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