Aging or cancer: a dead end

A study reveals immortality and eternal health are not possible

Aging or cancer: a dead end

Read in Spanish: ¿Envejecimiento o cáncer?: Un callejón sin salida

"There are three things that never go back: the word spoken, the arrow thrown and the lost opportunity". This is an ancient Chinese proverb that these days takes relevance because of  the scientific publication of academics Paul Nelson and Joanna Masel, researchers from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology of the University of Arizona in the United States.

The investigation showed that there is a way out of the pretense to put an end to the aging of multicellular organisms. The 'Eternal Youth' raises two fundamental problems, remedy one does not avoid the other, either ends in the only thing that has no remedy in life: death.

The 'ambrosia', food of the gods to which properties such as immortality were attributed to those who consumed it, and the fountain of eternal youth, referenced in the third book of the Histories of Heródoto seem to be closer to the scientific possibility of stopping cell aging, according to the study entitled "Intercellular competence and inevitability of multicellular aging".

Through intercellular competition, it could eliminate those cells that have lost functionality over time and be replaced by new cells that perform the same functions, as it is done in modern societies. Older people give way to new generations full of energy, to perform the tasks previously performed by them.

Apparently, it is simple. "A lot of help that does not get in the way", says the popular saying; however, nature, apparently, is not as cruel as the thought of modern societies to replace one individual with another without regard.

When trying to replace the old cells, by young and functional cells, an excessive growth is generated in the new cells giving rise to tumors, this being the cellular basis of what we know as cancer.

"The selection between cells can delay aging by purging cells that do not work. However, the fitness of a multicellular organism depends not only on how functional its individual cells are but also on how well the cells function together, "the researchers say.

The cooperativism between the different cells is fundamental for the correct functioning and organization among them, which triggers the perfect exercise of the vital functions of each one of the multicellular organisms.

Nevertheless, a question arises, why are the cells no longer functional? Professor Maria Marcela Camacho Navarro, a doctor and Ph.D in Biology from the University of London, currently a researcher at the National University of Colombia, explains that "the cells of multicellular organisms, they have a nucleus where all the genetic information in the organized DNA is stored in chromosomes that are like fibers and the ends of each chromosome are protected by the telomeres, each time the cell replicates, the telomeres are shortened and the shortening of Telomeres are associated with aging".

"a cancer cell is the one that lost the genetic control that restricts its number of divisions and begins to divide in a rampant, crazy way and never stops"

That is, the telomeres when they are worn and shortened are like the timer that marks the number of cell divisions until the process of leaving each cell in a terminal state is stopped, this state is known as ‘cellular senescence’.

There we find the other problem that leaves the dead end to avoid aging. The study determines that by avoiding the shortening of telomeres, excessive growth and cell multiplication is encouraged, giving rise to cellular aggregates that become tumors, which all we know as cancer. It could be said then, that the shortening of telomeres is a cancer suppressive mechanism and at the same time a guarantee of cellular senescence.

Professor Camacho explains that "a cancer cell is the one that lost the genetic control that restricts its number of divisions and begins to divide in a rampant, crazy way and never stops".

For the Colombian Biologist Mauricio Vela, a doctoral student at the University of Arizona and a researcher at the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, claims that "there is a very complex decision that must be made: or the telomeres shorten, giving rise to the death of the cells or we prevent the wear of the telomeres giving rise to the uncontrolled growth of cells that quickly become tumors, that is the paradox to which we are confronted by all multicellular organisms".

Vela also affirms that "the reason that multicellular organisms have the possibility of reproducing, giving origin to our offspring is the transmission of all genetic information, if science found the formula of eternal youth, preventing the telomeres from wearing out and preventing at the same time the origin of cancer, because it would not make sense for us to reproduce, because we would be eternal beings, why we pass a genetic code to our descendants if we are never going to die, would also cut the flow of matter and energy in nature without the multicellular organisms dying".

On the other hand, Camacho Navarro assures that "just as we are going to age, the price of being able to replicate forever is an anarchic growth, that is called cancer, and the price of not growing anarchically and of conserving the multicellular set, implies senescence (aging) is that we are not bacteria".

 

LatinAmerican Post | Alberto Castaño Camacho

Copy edited by Marcela Peñaloza

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