The hope is that death-spiral research in fruit flies and other organisms could someday tell scientists more about the decline of humans prior to death. [8 Tips for Healthy Aging]
In their review paper, Mueller and his colleagues cited a study from 2008 published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciencesas evidence that people may experience the death spiral as well. In that study, researchers analyzed data collected on the physical and cognitive abilities of 2,262 Danish people, ages 92 to 100, from 1998 to 2005. They found that the physical and cognitive scores of individuals who died within the first two years of the study were significantly lower than the scores of those who were still alive in 2005. The assessments included measures of grip strength, ability to complete daily activities (such as using the toilet and eating) and exams that helped evaluate cognitive impairment.
Basically, Mueller said, a death spiral in people could be the reason we often see a distinct increase in disability just before a person dies. Humans are challenging study subjects for both ethical and biological reasons, but looking at the death spiral in other organisms could give scientists a window into how this works in humans, the researchers said.
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According to Mueller, the next step in this research might be to selectively breed the flies to create groups that experience death spirals of different durations.
"Once you create populations that are genetically different in that way, you can ask, 'What genes were changed in order to reduce the length of the death spiral?'" Mueller said. Using that knowledge, researchers could look at the human genome for similar genetic markers; humans are genetically similar to fruit flies, Mueller noted. According toyourgenome.com, a website of the Wellcome Genome Campus, 75 percent of disease-causing genes in humans are also present in fruit flies.
Mueller said the research isn't about stopping or even delaying death. Rather, he sees it as a way to improve people's quality of life when they are reaching the end and potentially save immense amounts of money in end-of-life health care.
"Even if we don't affect when you die, we'd like to make you fully functional up to the day you die," he said.
Original article on Live Science.
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