In 2021, the global anti-aging products market was valued at more than 60 billion USD and included everything from supplements to skin care products promising to fight the signs of, and even reverse aging. And while the market is poised to grow to more than 119 billion by 2030, the results, for lack of better phrasing, are mostly skin deep. That’s because, when it comes to the question of aging, there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. Behind the creaking bones and aching muscles, aging starts all the way down to, and cycles up from, the cellular level.
What’s the big deal with aging?
As medicine and technology have evolved, longevity has increased significantly, heightening awareness of aging-related diseases like arthritis, cancer, dementia, and cardiovascular disease. Understanding the dynamics of the aging process is so important to remaining healthy as we get older that the United States formed the National Institute on Aging in 1974, when the average life expectancy was just 71.9 years. Just 50 years later, life expectancy for Americans has risen to 79.1 years. And that additional near-decade can make a big difference in health and quality of life.
That’s because aging is about more than its visible signs. Grey hair, wrinkles, and audible ??muscular movements are simply the signs of something much bigger— or rather something very small— happening in the body. Simply, aging is the accumulation of molecular and cellular damage that occurs over the course of life, much like the wear and tear that occurs in even the best kept home. Over time, researchers at NIH and elsewhere have found that aging is effected by a combination of processes, like stress response, immune system function, cellular senescence, genetics, and environmental factors. But while it seems that there’s not just one answer to increasing longevity or combatting the effects of aging, these factors of aging almost all tie together at one point.
Aging and illness begin when your cellular battery is running low
Cellular division— or the process of cells splitting apart and multiplying— is at the very heart of health, wellness, and youthfulness. It’s what allows our children to grow into adults, hair to grow out after a terrible salon mistake, and what helps new skin grow after a scraped knee or kitchen accident. Along with this, every day, more than 50 billion cells in our bodies die as a part of keeping us healthy and rejuvenated. But over time, and long before we “go grey” some cells in our bodies slow down. They stop dividing and multiplying, but don’t die, instead entering a state of senescence. It’s similar in some ways to a cellular phone in low battery mode, unable to perform certain functions. But this doesn’t mean that these cells are inactive, or that they are not impacting the body. In fact, senescent cells continue to release chemicals, like cytokines, that can cause inflammation by aggravating or damaging nearby healthy cells. Scientists believe that this can lead to a variety of chronic diseases and also contribute to aging, and the aches and pains that come with it. These cells, in fact, have been named as one of the probable culprits in inflaming— a term researchers are now using to describe the chronic inflammation and pain associated with getting older.
Vaccine and biopharmaceutical research: The unlikely anti-aging hero
In 2022, there were 143 drugs in clinical trials for the treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease, which accounts for 60 to 80 percent of dementia cases and is known to be caused at least, in part, by inflammation. Chronic inflammation, too, is known as an instigator in heart disease, arthritis, and even cancer. Continued and long-term studies of aging-related diseases continues to provide additional evidence that internal inflammation is part and parcel to the aging process, and that inflammation comes from damaged cells. More and more, studies are focused on how to reduce and even reverse inflammation to stop the progression of, or completely eliminate signs of chronic disease. Some approaches involve nutraceuticals, life-style changes or senolytic drugs – drugs to eliminate senescent cells. Scientists at Calviri are taking a different approach. They are researching a potential vaccine to prevent deaths from chronic disease and increase longevity— presumably by reducing the senescent cells that cause chronic diseases of aging. The team’s vaccine, currently in clinical trials in dogs, could potentially direct the immune system to kill off the lingering senescent cells, eliminating the inflammation they create, and ultimately, increasing longevity and wellness. The full results, and what it means for aging well, are still to be seen.
The big picture: Longevity and wellness come from deep inside the body, from a place that no cream can reach. Mounting evidence indicates that senescent cells— those cells that have stopped doing their job— are responsible for chronic inflammation as we age, and for the aches, pain and discomfort that follow. But new technology and new research happening right now are unlocking secrets about inflammation, how and where it starts, and potentially how to make it stop. And if scientists are able to open that door, the real fountain of youth might be behind it.