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Ageing is irreversible: new landmark research

A landmark study has found that slowing or reversing the ageing process is unlikely to be possible for humans.

Researchers from 14 different countries set out to test the ‘invariant rate of ageing’ hypothesis, which says that a species has a relatively fixed rate of ageing.

They analysed data from 30 primate species, 17 in the wild and 13 in zoos, and examined birth and death records from nine diverse human populations in 17th to 20th century Europe, the Caribbean and Ukraine, and two hunter gatherer groups between 1900 and 2000.

"Our findings support the theory that, rather than slowing down death, more people are living much longer due to a reduction in mortality at younger ages," said José Manuel Aburto from Oxford’s Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science.

The researchers analyzed the relationship between life expectancy, the average age at which individuals die, and lifespan equality, which measures how concentrated deaths are around older ages.

"We compared birth and death data from humans and non-human primates and found this general pattern of mortality was the same in all of them. This suggests that biological, rather than environmental factors, ultimately control longevity," Aburto said.

"The statistics confirmed individuals live longer as health and living conditions improve, which leads to increasing longevity across an entire population. Nevertheless, a steep rise in death rates, as years advance into old age, is clear to see in all species."

The data showed that there is a general pattern of mortality. We have a high risk of death in infancy which lessens as we mature and remains low until old age when it rises sharply. 

"We observe that not only humans, but also other primate species exposed to different environments, succeed in living longer by reducing infant and juvenile mortality. However, this relationship only holds if we reduce early mortality, and not by reducing the rate of ageing," said research lead Fernando Colchero from the University of Southern Denmark.

However, not all is lost according to Colchero.

"Medical science has advanced at an unprecedented pace, so maybe science might succeed in achieving what evolution could not: to reduce the rate of ageing."

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