Making it to a 1,000 years old is possible if you're still young. (Photo by pedrosimoes7)
Seems like the mainstream media has been a little quiet on anti-aging news in the past few months. Maybe the summer has had something to do with it. No time to worry about getting old and dying when the sun is shining outside!
Thankfully, The Daily Telegraph is here to remind us that autumn is coming fast and death lurks around every corner again. In an article titled "Could there be a cure for ageing?" Danny Penman takes a peek at what the future has in store for us.
I've often expressed my surprise at the positive tone of many of these pieces, but I guess I should stop being surprised and just accept that perhaps the tides are turning for good. Sure, there will be an uproar against rejuvenation therapies from irrational people, but it's good to see reporters with an optimistic attitude towards life extension.
Mr. Penman even mentions the fourth Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) conference that took place a few weeks ago. He quotes Aubrey de Grey in the article:
"Conventional medical progress has ensured that a child born today can expect to live 120 to 150 years. I think it's possible for them to live far longer. If we make the right breakthroughs in the next 25 years, then there is a 50:50 chance that people alive today could live to be 1,000 years old."
Such optimistic estimates are nothing new from de Grey, but usually he's shared them with people who are already life extensionists and expressed his predictions in more conservative terms for the mainstream crowd. Apparently people accept lifespans of 200 to 300 years more easily than living to be 1,000 years old. The fact that he mentions this figure will probably seem very radical to most readers, but as de Grey himself says, the true implications of rejuvenation therapies are lifespans measured in millions of years.
There is, of course, always the chance that none of us alive today will get a ticket for the ride. Our lifespans will, on average, probably be greater than those of previous generations even without any dramatic interventions, but the ultimate goal of every sensible life extensionist is making it to escape velocity:
The "normal" rate of medical progress ensures that life expectancy increases by about two years every decade. This ensures that for every hour that passes, you have gained 12 minutes of life expectancy. Accelerate the rate of progress, and you stand a chance of achieving "take-off"– the point at which life expectancy increases faster than the population ages.
The article briefly mentions the disposable soma theory of aging – which has to do with evolution favoring reproduction over maintenance – and goes over the seven types of aging damage. Then, after an obligatory discussion of modern plaques like diabetes and Alzheimer's and how solving aging is related to them, there's a more exciting part:
Custom-building body parts – or even replacing whole limbs – may seem like the realm of science fiction but this may soon become reality.
Already scientists routinely produce skin and simple body parts, such as ears. Twelve years ago, the world was stunned by the picture of a human ear growing on the back of a mouse. Since then, the technique has advanced so fast that body parts are now routinely grown in vats rather than in animals. More than 300,000 people have now received such tissue-engineered body parts.
I'm pretty sure most people are generally unaware of the progress being made in tissue engineering. I think it's a very promising field, if only for the fact that replacing limbs with artificial ones will likely go down with the public better than the whole "let's live forever" concept. A few decades ago, being paralyzed in many ways resembled a death sentence – because who would want to stare at the ceiling in a hospital bed for the rest of their life? – but with technologies such as tissue engineering, it'll be only a temporary problem.
In the name of objective journalism, the anti-anti-aging crowd gets their voice heard too. Representing the pessimist side is Dr. Richard Faragher (who happens to be chair of the British Society for Research on Ageing, by the way!) whose vision of how we should spend our resources are somewhat different:
"Aubrey is effectively a science-fiction writer," says Dr Faragher. "There are many ways that public health can be improved through simple measures such as managing hip fractures more effectively. We should be focusing on these things rather than dreaming about immortality."
The fact that this dimwit is involved in deciding how funds for ageing research are spent is beyond me. He seems to think that desperately treating hip fractures as the population gets older and older is a better long-term solution than trying to fix the very problem of aging. A geriatric approach if I ever saw one.
As Henry David Thoreau said, "There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root."
For more information on anti-aging and immortality, see these posts:
How to Live Forever: My 5 Steps to Immortality
Biotechnology and the Future of Aging
Who Wants to Live Forever? Results from a Global Survey
Anti-Aging in the Media: New York Times on Caloric Restriction and Resveratrol