Updated: Apr 28, 2022
Aging is terrifying but not quite like M. Night Shymalan's version.
Can the rapid aging shown in the new M. Night Shyamalan movie OLD actually happen to you?
Welcome to Science Blast, a new series on Science to Save the World where we quickly explain where pop culture meets real science.
In the movie OLD, vacation goers suddenly find themselves aging incredibly fast, confronting not only their own mortality but each other. While critics are Split (see what I did there), it has people asking themselves “could this happen to me?”
The good news is – that while there are conditions which mimic rapid aging – like the disease progeria – caused by mutations in the cell structure protein LMN-A – or radiation damage – There doesn’t exist anything that can do to you what happens in the movie – where the entire lifecycle of growing up, maturing and then decaying happens at a vastly accelerated rate.
In fact, there has been research showing that perhaps we can move a bit in the other direction – reversing some of the negative effects of aging.
For example, a recent study where participants received a combination of human growth hormone and two anti-diabetes drugs DHEA and Metformin, showed their biological ages were reduced by an average of 2.5 years – at least as measured by a proxy metric for age called an “epigenetic clock”, a so-called “biomarker” that measures modifications to DNA through time.
More broadly, the human aging process is becoming increasingly understood through frameworks such as “The Hallmarks of Aging”, and scientists are coming close to affecting it for real – as opposed to the thousands of years of false promises and snake oil before now.
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Now, while we won’t go into spoilers: it’s fair to say that by the end of it OLD has something to say about the slow pace of medical research.
This can be helped by biomarkers – like the epigenetic clock mentioned earlier. Even things as simple as face and voice data can be used to create biomarkers that can assess your rate of aging or detect deadly diseases – like a certain virus which cannot be named – and armed with tools like this researchers can understand the lifespan and healthspan effects of potential therapies much faster than waiting until everyone expires to find out.
If you are interested in learning more check out this video we did about The Dog Aging project, aiming to help our best friends live longer and healthier, or this video on our parent channel, Lifespan.io, about how diluting the plasma in your blood might be a powerful way to make sure that what happens in the movie OLD doesn’t happen to you. Or at least happens far more slowly.
(Watch Movie Review)
A question for IM readers:
How much does the aging process terrify you?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lifespan.io is a nonprofit advocacy organization and news outlet covering aging and rejuvenation research.
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