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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2010 Jan 12;365(1537):147-54. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2009.0222.

The new biology of ageing.

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Institute of Healthy Ageing and GEE, UCL, London, UK.


Human life expectancy in developed countries has increased steadily for over 150 years, through improvements in public health and lifestyle. More people are hence living long enough to suffer age-related loss of function and disease, and there is a need to improve the health of older people. Ageing is a complex process of damage accumulation, and has been viewed as experimentally and medically intractable. This view has been reinforced by the realization that ageing is a disadvantageous trait that evolves as a side effect of mutation accumulation or a benefit to the young, because of the decline in the force of natural selection at later ages. However, important recent discoveries are that mutations in single genes can extend lifespan of laboratory model organisms and that the mechanisms involved are conserved across large evolutionary distances, including to mammals. These mutations keep the animals functional and pathology-free to later ages, and they can protect against specific ageing-related diseases, including neurodegenerative disease and cancer. Preliminary indications suggest that these new findings from the laboratory may well also apply to humans. Translating these discoveries into medical treatments poses new challenges, including changing clinical thinking towards broad-spectrum, preventative medicine and finding novel routes to drug development.

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