Why Can't We Just Grow Old Gracefully?

18/01/2011 10:20 | Updated 22 May 2015

If you happen to have a balding man in your life (quite likely, as many as 30% of men are starting to go bald by the time they are 30), then you can deliver some good news to him. It's not that he doesn't have any hair on top, he does. It's just that it's invisible!

Okay, if you built up the 'good news' a bit too much, this revelation might be met with a somewhat disappointed expression. But Dr George Cotsarelis, at the University of Pennsylvania, has spent lots of time and money (if the press is to be believed, some of that cash came from the economically-screwed US government, can you believe that?!) discovering what happens to the hair follicles of men 'suffering' (sorry about the air quotes there guys) from male pattern baldness.

And it would seem that it's all down to a lack of a certain type of progenitor cell. The hair actually still grows on the bald bits of scalp, but it's microscopic – and now they know what the cause of this weakening is, they can work on replacing the missing cell in the follicles. There could be a remedy for baldness within a decade.


While it might have baldies cheering from the rooftops, I find the whole thing a bit, you know, so what?! Considering baldness is so very common, why do guys get so very upset about it? It's just a natural part of the ageing process, like me getting wrinkles, white hair and a saggy bottom (actually, if I'm honest, I could do more to counteract that last one).

Meanwhile, all the bonkers people who were about to sign on the dotted line and pay vast sums of money to crazy cryogenics companies would have been putting those pens away again at the end of last year, when news emerged that scientists have managed to not only slow, but reverse the ageing process in mice.

Yes, mice. It's still a bit of leap to get to humans I guess. But nevertheless, the researchers say it could point to the possibility of treatments to slow ageing in humans in the future, keeping everything under the bonnet fresh and in tip top condition. Cosmetic surgery already has our bodywork covered, of course.

The thing is, I am trying to imagine a future where men don't go bald and people don't get old, and I don't think I like the idea of it much. Granted, initially it'll be all the rich people who pay for their follicles to be reactivated and their organs to be rejuvenated (crikey, just imagine what The Original Cher would look like after another 60 years of botox). But what if it's like all other technology? Remember, at first it was only very well off people who could afford a Sony Walkman – a year or so later, everyone had one. You see how I am not afraid to show my age there?

Isn't it going to be a bit confusing when all the 70 year olds still look like 35 year olds? We're already overpopulating the planet, so you and I and the rest of our generation are really going to need to pop off this earthly plane at some point in order to make enough room for our children's children's children. They're not going to want us hanging about, taking up all the room and buying up all the anti-ageing cream.

None of us revels in the idea of getting old, but it's just an inevitable thing, so can't science just concentrate on more important things – like curing diseases that kill children or people in their prime? Meanwhile, we could do all the things we know are likely to prolong our life and enjoyment of it, and preserve our youth in a natural way (eat healthily, exercise, laugh more).

I expect if they manage to come up with a cure, there will inevitably be far fewer shiny heads in a decade or so's time. But I say we should all grow old gracefully. Or even disgracefully, which might be more fun.

By: Pip Jones


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