Secrets to Healthy Aging of Centenarians
-Special Interview with Chair Professor Park SangChul
"I started my career with cancer research.
In the early 1990s, I changed my research topic to aging. At that time, many
researchers were drawn to investigate the relationship between the oxidative
damage and aging. I thought I could do something very different in this area.
Especially, while conducting researches on centenarians, I come to have a
totally new perspective on the aging."
Chair professor Park SangChul at the
Department of New Biology recalls his early days. Twenty-six years back, he
just believed that everything will be all gone with age. Thus, he tried to
investigate how to delay the aging process. Professor Park said, "I wanted to
define what the aging that we are fighting against means. At that time, the
life expectancy of human being was 100 years old at best. So, I was looking for
people who were about 100 years old to study their physical conditions who were
deemed to be near death.
To "the Era of
Rejuvenation" from "the Era of Anti-aging".
While meeting centenarians, he
changed his view on aging completely as he found out very proactive
regenerative power in the centenarians who thought to be entering into their
final stage of life. At that point, he realized that regeneration of the body
cell was the key to overcome the aging. Afterwards, he started to focus on
rejuvenation of old cells, instead of the "anti-aging" approach to slow down
aging. Prior to the studies of centenarians, Professor Park conducted the
research of proliferation of old cells. When sending signals of proliferation,
the old cells, unlike the young ones, did not show any response to this signal.
He identified that the cell membrane of old cells contained a protein called "Caveolin" which blocked external signals. It is called the “Gate Theory” of
aging as it acts as a gatekeeper to decide whether or not this protein accepts
the signal. He published the theory in 2000 on Biochemistry. Professor Park
said, "I and my colleagues have now found a material that allows older fibroblasts
to grow back to their youth." He added "The research is now pending for the
publication on the renowned journals after series of verifications."
Inclusive Research for
Aging Is RequiredAccording to Professor Park, aging theories, such as the
oxidative damage theory and the telomere theory focusing on cell or gene
damage, suffer a setback now. "The effects of antioxidants in animal
experiments have not been proven. We could found the longer the antioxidants
are used, the worse effects had been showed," he said.
The theory that telomeres become shorter is also found to be in
conflict with existing perspectives. Telomeres of rats with a lifetime of 2
years are ten times longer than that of human’s. Even wild rats have shorter
telomere than experimental rats, whereas wild rats live longer than
Professor Park stressed that there are two remaining theories of
aging; inflammation damage theory and environmental theory. "If you fell and
got hurt, the wound is the cause of inflammation. On the other hand, the
inflammation damage theory is based that old cells are vulnerable to
inflammation even without causes. Professor Park reported on online edition of
the "Scientific Report" on January 3 that the cause of inflammation
in intestinal cells is due to decreasing number of immune and perivascular
cells that carry signals. Professor Park said, "If we identify a substance
that regulates the number of cells around the blood vessels, that will help to
prolong the life span."When it comes to aging, genetics factors play less than 30
percent and the rest depends on the environmental factors. Professor Park
points out "In the 20th century, it was a "public aging era." Among
environmental factors, medical services, public hygiene and safety in the
public sectors played an important role in people’s aged life and life
expectancy. However, today, individuals may regulate their lifespan." It
means that it is becoming a "private aging era." Personal activities such as
daily exercise, regular medical checkup, healthy eating habits will control the
aging. The aging rather becomes an individual issue; how much he or she care
about themselves physically and maintain health-conscious life style. Professor
Park said, "Leaders in diverse fields, such as nutrition, biology and
sociology, should conduct comprehensive research together."
Original version of this article appears on the Donga Science, By: Kim JinHo, Picture: Choi HoShik
Translation: International Affairs Team