A team of researchers is studying US Navy dolphins to find clues on how to slow down human aging.
Because dolphins age similarly to humans, studying them can be useful in finding strategies to slow down human aging.
“While it has long been believed that some people age faster than others, it has been difficult to prove that people indeed age at different rates,” said Stephanie Venn-Watson, the study’s lead author.
Scientists have collected samples over 25 years to identify biomarkers in the blood of dolphins that may be relevant to understanding how the aging process works.
According to the researchers, aging affects at least four blood components in dolphins: hemoglobin, lymphocytes, platelets, and alkaline phosphatase.
“Based on these indices, we were able to confirm the presence of both slow and accelerated aging dolphins,” Venn-Watson said.
For example, hemoglobin and lymphocytes decrease with age. This means that older dolphins (and people) are at higher risk for anemia and serious infections. Dolphins that age faster are at even greater risk.
The aging process is influenced by environmental and lifestyle factors, both in dolphins and in humans. Chronic medication and socioeconomic status are two relevant factors in human aging.
“Importantly, we could clearly differentiate slow and accelerated aging dolphins despite the fact that all dolphins in the population shared the same diet, health care, and oceanic environment,” Venn-Watson said.
The discovery “supports that key, non-environmental drivers of aging rate can be identified, and thus, may be targeted to slow aging itself,” explained the researcher.
Dolphins are a particularly useful model for studying human aging because they can be affected by conditions related to aging, such as chronic inflammation, high cholesterol, and Alzheimer’s disease.
“These similarities support that dolphins and humans share similar aging-related mechanisms,” Venn-Watson concluded.
The results of the study were published this week in the scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.