The quest for immortality is ingrained in human nature. People have long been searching for that magic bullet to extend their lives indefinitely. Unfortunately, aging cannot be stopped, and a new study concludes that it’s mathematically impossible for people to live forever.
Ecology and evolutionary biology professor Joanna Masel from the University of Arizona in Tucscon and postdoctoral researcher Paul Nelson recently published the paper “Intercellular Competition and Inevitability of Multicellular Aging” in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
One problem is that over time, some cells age, stop working, and become “sluggish.” For example, people’s hair turns white because the cells stop making pigment. The other problem is that certain cells work extra hard and can develop into cancer. Most people develop cancer cells as they age, although not everyone is adversely affected by them.
Nelson told Medical News Today, “As you age, most of your cells are ratcheting down and losing function, and they stop growing, as well. But some of your cells are growing like crazy.
“What we show is that this forms a double bind — a catch-22. If you get rid of those poorly functioning, sluggish cells, then that allows cancer cells to proliferate, and if you get rid of, or slow down, those cancer cells, then that allows sluggish cells to accumulate.
“So, you’re stuck between allowing these sluggish cells to accumulate or allowing cancer cells to proliferate, and if you do one, you can’t do the other. You can’t do them both at the same time.”
As a result, aging is inevitable.
Masel added, “We’re saying it’s not just a question of evolution not doing it; it can’t be done by natural selection or by anything else.
“We have a mathematical demonstration of why it’s impossible to fix both problems. You can fix one problem, but you’re stuck with the other one. Things will get worse over time in one of these two ways or both: either all of your cells will continue to get more sluggish, or you’ll get cancer. And the basic reason is that things break. It doesn’t matter how much you try and stop them from breaking, you can’t.”
The good news is that scientists may be able to slow aging, but they will never be able to stop it.