A new class of drugs aimed at age-related physical and mental deterioration could change not only the nature of life, but of death.
The drugs target mitochondria, the cellular power generators that provide our bodies with chemical energy. Over time, mitochondria accumulate damage, causing cells and eventually tissues to malfunction and break down. Some scientists believe that such seemingly disparate diseases as cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, diabetes and heart disease -- all of which become more common with age -- share a mitochondrial root. Fix the mitochondria, and you might fix aging itself.
Preliminary research suggests that mitochondria-rejuvenating drugs are capable, at least in lab animals, of halting these diseases and extending longevity. The research also suggests that, once they've reached the end of their traditional lifespans, these animals tend to die quickly and inexplicably, without any indication of disease or systemic breakdown.
If the pattern holds in people, death would not be preceded by months or years of suffering. It would also come without warning, forever catching family and loved ones by surprise.