It may sound like something from a science fiction movie, but a Cambridge University researcher believes we will have the knowledge and tools to live indefinitely in as little as 25 years.
Aubrey de Grey heads the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) project at Cambridge, and believes he has defined all seven causes of ageing – all of which he says can be stopped, and even turned around.
The seven causes of ageing are:
- Nuclear Mutations: changes to DNA or the proteins that adhere to our DNA molecules, which can lead to cancer.
- Mitochondrial Mutations: changes in the part of our body’s cells that produce energy.
- Intracellular Junk: proteins that our cells can’t break down and that accumulate inside our cells.
- Extracellular Junk: harmful proteins that build up outside our cells, an example is the plaque that forms on the brains of Alzheimer’s sufferers.
- Cell Loss: some of the cells in our bodies cannot be replaced, or can only be replaced very slowly.
- Cell ageing: where the cells lose the ability to divide and possibly perform other essential functions, such as getting rid of proteins that could cause harm.
- Extracellular Crosslinks: a loss of elasticity of the linking proteins between cells.
If these are indeed the be-all-and-end-all causes of ageing then hurrah, let’s start stopping them in their tracks. So how long would be able to live for?
In an interview with Live Science, de Grey said, “I don’t see any inherent limit to how long it would be desirable to live. If life is fun at the moment because one is healthy and youthful, both mentally and physically, then one is not likely to want to die in the next year or two. And if a year or two down the road, life is still fun because one is still youthful and so on, then the same will apply, and I can’t see a time when that would cease to be true.”
In other words, de Grey is chasing the eternal flame… But, as the song says, would we really want to live forever? And how would that work?
de Grey says, like any new technology, things would be a little shaky at first. We’d need to “go in” for readjustments every now and then and have various treatments to keep everything working properly. But ultimately, he says, this could be as simple as getting an injection every year to “vaccinate” us against ageing.
The allure of eternal youth is not limited to a few kooky scientists (or raiders of lost arks). According to The Guardian, Google’s secretive Calico operation is putting hundreds of millions of dollars into anti-ageing research. Meanwhile, Craig Venter, a genetics entrepreneur, has launched Human Longevity, a company that seeks to find the genes that lead to long life. Even the US Food and Drug Administration has approved trials of well-known drugs, such as the diabetes treatment, metformin, in the hope of uncovering anti-ageing effects.
And we’re getting closer. Time magazine reports that scientists aside from de Grey have uncovered the causes of ageing – it’s now a matter of putting the knowledge into practice.
Why do you think society is so obsessed with preventing ageing? Would you want to live forever?