As we are only too aware, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been felt across the world. But did you know that across Africa, which contains some of the world’s poorest countries and limited access to healthcare, its impact has been far less than in many western countries. Colin Farrelly who is a Queen’s University professor believes this is due to the large age difference between the two populations. In the UK for example, life expectancy is 81 but in sub-Saharan Africa it is less than 62. The fatality rate of COVID-19 increases dramatically with age. Professor Farrelly suggests that our quest to live longer and delay death in later life has made many populations vulnerable to COVID-19.
As a result, some scientists are calling COVID the new disease of ageing, putting it into the same category as cancer, heart disease and dementia.
As a result of the pandemic, science is now turning its attention to slowing the ageing process itself instead of focusing on specific diseases. Instead of focusing on the positive impact of exercise and a healthy lifestyle, many scientists are now focussing on drugs and dietary supplements that could help the human body to age better.
Many believe that the human body has evolved over time. Its main task being to produce offspring and live long enough to care for their offspring until they can become self-sufficient. It has been suggested that the average life span is designed to be around 70 years, after which the body begins to breakdown and become susceptible to disease. Scientists not only want to prolong life, but ensure those later years are healthy and productive.
There are many trials underway across the world, searching for that drug. Scientists in Japan have recently claimed to have developed a gene therapy that could delay ageing. Its very early days and the treatment has only been trialled on mice, but the lifespan of the mice was extended by 25% and there were no significant side effects. They believe this treatment could eventually be used on humans, but this is a very long way off.
Is this a good thing, should we be trying to slow or indeed reverse, the natural process of ageing? Let us know what you think at firstname.lastname@example.org