Why your organs might reach 100 even if you don’t
Research suggests some parts of the body age faster than others to the point that they even outlive their owners. Could understanding this better help us to live longer?
It was a desperate situation. A 19-year-old Turkish woman with liver disease was in urgent need of a transplant. While on the waiting list, she developed hepatic encephalopathy, a condition where toxins building up in her bloodstream due to her failing organ began to take their toll on her brain.
Before long, her liver started to shut down altogether and doctors rushed to save her life.
With time ticking away, their only option was a liver that had already been turned down by other hospitals. It was considered to be in bad shape – not only did it contain a cyst caused by a parasitic infection, but its previous owner was a recently deceased 93-year-old woman. The organ was old by transplant standards, particularly for a recipient so much younger.
But with no other organs available and little other choice, the doctors went ahead with the transplant. Remarkably, the operation, which took place in 2008 at the Liver Transplantation Institute at Inonu University in Malatya, Turkey, was a success – the young recipient survived, and six years later gave birth to a healthy baby girl. On her daughter’s first birthday, the woman had turned 26 and had just celebrated her liver’s one-hundredth birthday.
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Few of us will ever know what it’s like to have a liver as old as our great-grandparents. But remarkably some of our organs have the capacity to outlive us, while others age far more quickly. The way your organs and tissues age could tell us far more about how old our bodies really are than counting birthdays ever will.
One of the curiosities of longevity research is that your actual age appears to be less important than you might expect. In fact, researchers tend to be more interested in the discrepancy between your chronological age – how many years since you were born – and your biological age, a concept used to describe how our bodies are actually faring as we get older. Read more