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Gavrilov, Ph.D., GSA Fellow
Gavrilova, Ph.D., GSA Fellow
Center on Aging, NORC at the University of Chicago
Reliability theory of aging and longevity
is a scientific
approach aimed to gain theoretical insights into mechanisms of
and species survival
patterns by applying a general theory of systems failure, known as
Reliability theory allows researchers to predict the age-related
failure kinetics for a system of given architecture (reliability
) and given reliability of its components.
Applications of reliability-theory approach to the problem of
longevity lead to the following conclusions:
- Redundancy is a key for
understanding aging and the systemic nature of aging in
particular. Systems, which are redundant in numbers of
irreplaceable elements, do deteriorate (that is, age) over time,
even if they are built of non-aging elements.
- Paradoxically, the apparent aging
rate or expression of aging (measured as relative
differences in failure rates between compared age
groups) is higher for systems with higher redundancy
- Redundancy exhaustion over the life course
explains the observed 'compensation law of
mortality' (mortality convergence at later life, when
death rates are becoming relatively similar at advanced ages for
different populations of the same biological species), as well
as the observed late-life mortality
deceleration, leveling-off, and mortality plateaus.
- Living organisms seem to be formed with a high initial load of
hypothesis), and therefore their lifespan and aging
patterns may be sensitive to early-life conditions that determine this initial
damage load during early development. The idea of early-life programming of
aging and longevity may have important practical
implications for developing early-life interventions promoting
health and longevity.
- Reliability theory explains why mortality rates increase
exponentially with age (the Gompertz law) in
many species, by taking into account the initial flaws (defects)
in newly formed systems. It also explains why organisms "prefer"
to die according to the Gompertz law, while technical devices
usually fail according to the Weibull (power) law.
Theoretical conditions are specified when organisms die
according to the Weibull law: organisms should be relatively
free of initial flaws and defects. The theory makes it possible
to find a general failure law applicable to all adult and
extreme old ages, where the Gompertz and the Weibull laws are
just special cases of this more general failure law.
- Reliability theory helps evolutionary theories to explain how
the age of onset of deleterious mutations could be postponed
during evolution, which could be easily achieved by a simple
increase in initial redundancy levels. From the reliability
perspective, the increase in initial redundancy levels is the
simplest way to improve survival at particularly early
reproductive ages (with gains fading at older ages). This
matches exactly with the higher fitness priority of early
reproductive ages emphasized by evolutionary theories.
Evolutionary and reliability ideas also help in understanding
why organisms seem to "choose" a simple but short-term solution
of the survival problem through enhancing the systems'
redundancy, instead of a more permanent but complicated solution
based on rigorous repair (with the potential of achieving negligible senescence). Thus
there are promising opportunities for merging the reliability
and evolutionary theories of aging.
Overall, the reliability theory provides a parsimonious
explanation for many important aging-related phenomena and
suggests a number of interesting testable predictions. Therefore,
reliability theory seems to be a promising approach for developing
a comprehensive theory of aging and longevity integrating
mathematical methods with specific biological knowledge and
Reliability theory of aging provides an optimistic perspective on
the opportunities for healthy life-extension. According to
reliability theory, human lifespan is not fixed, and it could be
further increased through better body maintenance, repair, and
replacement of the failed body parts in the future.
- Gavrilov LA, Gavrilova NS. Reliability
Theory of Aging and Longevity. In: Masoro E.J. &
Austad S.N.. (eds.): Handbook of the Biology of Aging, Sixth
Edition. Academic Press. San Diego, CA, USA, 2006, 3-42. ISBN 0-12-088387-2
- Gavrilov LA, Gavrilova NS. Models
of Systems Failure in Aging. In: P Michael Conn
(Editor): Handbook of Models for Human Aging, Burlington, MA :
Elsevier Academic Press, 2006. 45-68. ISBN 0-12-369391-8.
- Gavrilov LA, Gavrilova NS. Why
We Fall Apart. Engineering's
Reliability Theory Explains Human Aging. IEEE Spectrum,
2004, 41(9): 30-35.
- Gavrilov LA, Gavrilova NS. The
Reliability-Engineering Approach to the Problem of
Biological Aging. Annals of the New York Academy of
Sciences, 2004, 1019: 509-512. PMID
- Gavrilov L.A., Gavrilova N.S. The quest
for a general theory of aging and longevity. Science's
SAGE KE (Science of Aging Knowledge Environment) for 16 July
2003; Vol. 2003, No. 28, 1-10. http://sageke.sciencemag.org,
- Gavrilov L.A., Gavrilova N.S. The
reliability theory of aging and longevity. Journal of
Theoretical Biology, 2001, 213(4): 527-545. doi:10.1006/jtbi.2001.2430
- Abernethy, John. Gompertzian mortality originates in the
winding-down of the mitotic clock. Journal of Theoretical
Biology, 1998, 192, 419-435.
- Leonid A.
Gavrilov & Natalia S. Gavrilova (1991), The Biology of
Life Span: A Quantitative Approach. New York: Harwood
Academic Publisher, ISBN 3-7186-4983-7
- Gavrilov, L.A. A mathematical model of the aging of animals.
Proc. Acad. Sci. USSR [Doklady Akademii Nauk SSSR], 1978,
238(2): 490-492. English translation by Plenum Publ Corp:
- Abernethy JD. The exponential increase in mortality rate
with age attributed to wearing-out of biological components.
Journal of Theoretical Biology, 1979, 80, 333-354.
- Gavrilov, L.A., Gavrilova, N.S., Yaguzhinsky, L.S. The main
regularities of animal aging and death viewed in terms of
reliability theory. J. General Biology [Zhurnal Obschey
Biologii], 1978, 39(5): 734-742. PMID
Theory of Aging and Longevity - Power-Point Presentation
of invited lecture at the Buck
Institute for Age Research, Novato, California, USA,
August 4, 2006.
Theory of Aging and Longevity - abstract of invited
lecture at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Applied
Mathematics & Statistics (AMS) and CSTAR Research Seminars,
October 10, 2005.
Theory of Aging and Longevity - Power-Point Presentation
of invited lecture at the University of Chicago. The Ecology and
Evolution Natural History Seminar, Department of Ecology and
Evolution, May 10, 2005.
Approach to the Problem of Biological Aging - invited
presentation at the 10th Congress of the International
Association of Biomedical Gerontology, Cambridge University,
England, September 19-23, 2003.