The Immune System’s Role in Longevity

elderly woman

Public domain image from Pixabay

One of the causes of a human’s “shortened” life span is the increased risk of infections and certain cancers caused the the reduced effectiveness of the immune system. You see, as we age, the thymus, which produces new T cells (a type of white blood cell that is key to the effectiveness of the immune system), becomes fatty and loses its ability to create new ones.

New research by Yale School of Medicine scientists may lead to a way to turn back that particular clock. They’ve found that a hormone that extends the lifespan of mice by 40% is produced by specialized cells in the thymus gland. The team also found that increasing the levels of this hormone, called FGF21, protects against the loss of immune function that comes with age.

Published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the study’s findings have future implications for improving immune function in the elderly, for obesity, and for illnesses such as cancer and type-2 diabetes.

Now, if you’re writing a story that includes someone with a longer-than-normal lifespan, you might be able to incorporate these findings into your work. Here are some writing prompts to help you explore.

Writing Prompts

What if …

  • Vampires had really strong thymus glands? Could you revert a vampire to humanity by damaging that gland?
  • Scientists developed a serum that improved thymus health, improving the immune system and lengthening life?
  • We discovered that people to live to be 100 or more had healthier thymus glands? Since many of these people say that the key to their long lives is an upbeat, grateful attitude, could that mean that a positive outlook in life guards the thymus from getting fatty and unhealthy? How would that mechanism work?
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