The only thing certain in life is death, a thought which seems so terrifyingly unreal in this modern world where we’re so removed from our natural selves.
However, what if death, like so many other undesirable glitches and niggles, could be shoved hundreds – if not thousands – of years into the future?
The current accepted maximum age a human being can live for is 120-years-old, however scientists are now pushing, more than ever, at this stubborn boundary, with new research showing reaching your 120th birthday may be commonplace within 60 years.
Although some scientists regard 125 as the absolute limit a human being can live for, others are optimistic about a life spanning 500 or even 1,000 years.
— World Economic Forum (@wef) March 25, 2018
Longevity research has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few years, with greater understanding about the mechanisms of ageing. Many scientists are looking to tackle age-related deterioration at the root.
Senescent cells – often referred to as zombie cells – can no longer replicate, however, they still stay metabolically active. The prevalence of such stubborn cells increases with age, causing destruction to surrounding tissue and contributing towards age-related diseases such as kidney failure.
Age research scientists discovered how mice with modified senescent cells – which had been killed off – lived 30 per cent longer than average mice. These mice were notably healthier, even regaining fur they’d lost.
Human trials are expected to begin in the near future, with microscopic zombie hunters potentially ready to clear your body of these pesky undead cells, Rick Grimes style.
Trendy anti-aging biotech Unity adds $55M as it preps first human trial to flush senescent cells https://t.co/5RJygww6ux #lifescience #biotech #biopharma #pharma #science #biotechnology #aging #fundraising #VC #VentureCapital pic.twitter.com/Xi44jvOS2V
— BioExpert Network (BEN) (@BioExpertNtwk) March 21, 2018
This isn’t the only area of research. NAD+, a co-enzyme which oxidizes food molecules in all living cells, is depleted dramatically by the time a person reaches middle age; leaving them vulnerable to potentially deadly illnesses such as heart disease and Alzheimer’s.
Scientists are now looking into ways to replenish a person’s NAD+ supply. Although it cannot enter cells other substances can, which will then turn into NAD+ once inside the cell.
Yep, it’s at this complicated, magic-like point I wish I had daydreamed less in biology.
Trials bak in 2016 showed this sneaky replenishment improved the brain, muscle and skin cells of mice; while also increasing their lifespan by a whisker or so.
Stem cells – which copy themselves to create a steady supply of fresh cells – are also a crucial aspect of contemporary longevity research.
Stem cells decline as a person ages and as part of an experiment, scientists placed stem cells from the brains of baby mice into the brains of older mice.
The older brain cells were reinvigorated, and within four months, the modified older mice had notably improved brain and muscle functions compared to those who’d been left untreated.
They even dodged the great cheese board in the sky for an average of 10 per cent longer.
We're on the brink of reversing #aging with drugs that kill senescent cells (senolytics). But no need to wait. #IntermittentFasting can do the same thing today for free! @LifeOmicIF @LifeOmic #fasting https://t.co/3p69RfKA19 pic.twitter.com/QOArwXhPt6
— Don Brown (@DonBrownIndy) March 14, 2018
Keith Comito, President of the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation, explained to UNILAD how this desire to prolong life is nothing new:
The desire to extend healthy human lifespan dates all the way back to the first great work of literature ever produced by our species, The Epic of Gilgamesh, and history is rich with continual and failed attempts at actualising this desire.
What’s changed in the past few decades is the scientific results of biomedical research have sufficiently accumulated to the point they can now be technologically applied.
As the processes of ageing become more well understood it becomes easier for researchers to propose and explore potential interventions.
As some of these interventions show promise, it draws the notice of investment capital, and a virtuous cycle of industry development begins to take shape.
Recent examples of rejuvenation in mammals have also inspired a surge of interest, illustrating ageing is not the one way process it was once thought to be, and bolstering the likelihood some of these therapies may be translatable to humans.
While the object of longevity research may be unique in its aspirations, the progression of this field is actually quite similar to the progression of any technology.
It just so happens, right now, we’re at the knee of the exponential in terms of life sciences, biotechnology, and in my opinion, the future is a bright one indeed.
A round table “6 ways to talk about aging”, organized by LEAF (Life Extension Advocacy Foundation ), Singularity University in Russia and Deloitte CIS. Our point was “Less Talk. More Action.” As an exact proposal to act instead of talking about abstract things. pic.twitter.com/RPFOqjOHJB
— Open_Longevity (@OpenLongevity) November 8, 2017
Fear of death is big business. Although many people protest they’d hate to live forever, when faced with a ‘cure’ – or at least a curtailing – for death, the temptation could prove too great?
Whereas the majority of us may have once looked to the church to quell our fears over death; this weighty responsibility has now fallen on the shoulders of Silicon Valley tech giants.
High profile investors in longevity research have included Google Ventures’ president Bill Maris and Amazon founder, Jeff Bezos.
However, for many people this sort of research is disturbing; going against the natural lifecycle we’ve come to accept and find meaning in.
Moreover, there are concerns regarding the effects on wider society.
Author, Gregg Easterbrook, made the following damning predictions in The Atlantic back in 2014 on the subject of escalating life expectancy:
Longer life has obvious appeal, but it entails societal risks. Politics may come to be dominated by the old, who might vote themselves ever more generous benefits for which the young must pay.
Social Security and private pensions could be burdened well beyond what current actuarial tables suggest.
If longer life expectancy simply leads to more years in which pensioners are disabled and demand expensive services, health-care costs may balloon as never before, while other social needs go unmet.
Furthermore, extended life may bring with it many ethical dilemmas. For example, surely there must be a point when life becomes tedious and you grow sick of the same, perhaps mediocre, life? 200? 2,000?
Adrian Moore, Professor of Philosophy at Oxford University, spoke to UNILAD about the philosophical consequences of living forever.
He said being immortal would have a significant impact on our culture, massively influencing how we view our goals and career paths.:
If you thought you were going to do it (your job) indefinitely, it might drive you crazy. It might be that you’d have to start thinking about a series of different careers.
Professor Moore noted how, during talks he’s held on the subject, audience members would express an interest in living longer, yet once this figure reached lengths of 1,000 years, there was much less certainty.
— Shivani Garg (@Shivani31341955) March 27, 2018
Comito also spoke to UNILAD about the possibility of death becoming an ‘optional’ route in the future:
Even in a future where all age-related diseases are cured and there’s no decline in our health or fitness over time, risk of death due to accident or injury will still be present.
To make death truly ‘optional’ would require a fundamental change in what we are as human beings.
For instance, some have discussed tactics such as mind uploading as a route to this goal, but in my opinion, key intermediary steps are currently lacking to consider such approaches seriously at present — for example, we do not yet have a clear definition for consciousness, and without this, there can be no metric for success.
What I can say is we’ll reach a point, likely in the not too distant future, where we consider Alzheimer’s optional; where we can consider cancer optional; where we consider heart disease optional. That’s a future I’m excited to see.
Find out more about ‘curing’ ageing in the following clip:
Speaking as a 27-year-old, there’d have once been a time in human history when I would have surpassed the average life expectancy; nearing the end of my time on Earth.
Nowadays, I’m considered to be a young person; kept in decent enough health through modern healthcare and living standards.
There’s obviously no way I would turn the clock back, denying myself the chance to gain new experiences and develop as a person. I don’t know if I would choose to live forever, mainly because such a thought is beyond anything I could imagine.
However, if there’s the option to live twice as long and age half as slowly – with my friends and family at my side – I know I’d take it in a heartbeat.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.