Want a Longer Life? Too Bad, Stopping Aging Process is Mathematically Impossible

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An older couple in Paris. Scientists have said stopping the aging process is mathematically impossible. Fabio Sola Penna/CC

It is logically, theoretically and mathematically impossible to stop the aging process, scientists have said.

In a blow to researchers currently working to slow or even stop the detrioration of cells in the human body, Joanna Masel and Paul Nelson, from the University of Arizona, have found a catch-22 when it comes to anti-aging science: it can cause cancer.

"Aging is mathematically inevitable —like, seriously inevitable. There's logically, theoretically, mathematically no way out," Masel said in a statement.

In their research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Masel and Nelson looked at exactly what happens to cells in the body as they age to see if there is any way to halt the process in multicellular organisms like humans.

Cells are constantly being replaced, with existing ones multiplying to produce new ones. But this can only happen a certain amount of times before the cells die. Another problem is loss of function, when a cell stops being able to perform as effectively as it once did. Over time, these processes results in aging.

Currently, various teams of scientists from across the globe are looking for a way to stop or slow down the aging process. One method being explored is targeting the selection process to get rid of cells that lose function, and keep ones that are functioning well.

The scientists looked at this model and found it comes with a major caveat—instead of getting slower over time, some cells start growing at a faster rate as they age, which can result in mutations that lead to cancer cells.

This problem means that multicellular organisms will age even if scientists manage to make cellular selection perfect. "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," Nelson said. "What we show is that this forms a double bind—a catch-22."

By getting rid of the poorly functioning cells, cancer cells are able to proliferate better. This means that instead of aging at a slow rate, a person could just get cancer and die instead.

"Either all of your cells will continue to get more sluggish, or you'll get cancer," Masel said. "And the basic reason is that things break. It doesn't matter how much you try and stop them from breaking, you can't. It's just something you have to deal with if you want to be a multicellular organism."

Concluding, the researchers said their findings should improve our understanding about the evolution of aging—in that competition between cells creates an "inescapable double bind" that makes getting older inevitable.