If we’re to guide ourselves after Aubrey de Grey‘s telling, according to his predictions the first person who will live to see their 150th birthday has already been born, and as science advances along the decades at the current pace it does, he claims people born soon after the latter mentioned birthday will live to be 1,000.
“I’d say we have a 50/50 chance of bringing aging under what I’d call a decisive level of medical control within the next 25 years or so,” de Grey said in an interview before delivering a lecture at Britain’s Royal Institution academy of science.
“And what I mean by decisive is the same sort of medical control that we have over most infectious diseases today.”
As living standards increase worldwide, so does the life expectancy. The world’s longest-living person on record lived to be 122, while in Japan alone there were more than 44,000 centenarians in 2010. This could be counter-acted, however, by the increasing obesity trend which is sweeping the world, which due to a high comfort level and sedentary life style has exposed people to other life treating issues.
As we age, molecular and cellular damage occurs in our body in brain, with minimum recovery. Some people manage to shelter themselves through out their lives from various sources of damage (hard physical labor, stress, diseases etc.), and live longer than the average individual. Dr. de Grey sees a time when people will go to regular maintenance checks, in which their cellular and molecular damage would be then treated through various means, like gene therapies, stem cell therapies, immune stimulation and a range of other advanced medical techniques to keep them in good shape.
“The idea is to engage in what you might call preventative geriatrics, where you go in to periodically repair that molecular and cellular damage before it gets to the level of abundance that is pathogenic,” he explained.
Part of the technology necessary to employ these sorts of longevity treatments are already existing, like stem cells treatment which is used for spinal cord injuries, as well as brain and heart related medical issues. Some, though, like heart-related failures are still extremely complicated to solve, and de Grey says there is a long way to go on these though researchers have figured out the path to follow.
The most common heart failure causing diseases surface as a result of byproducts of the body’s metabolic processes which our bodies are not able to break down or excrete. Scientists are now trying to identify enzymes that handle this process of cleansing in other species, and though gene therapy to dramatically lower the risk of a patient having a heart attack or stroke.
“The garbage accumulates inside the cell, and eventually it gets in the way of the cell’s workings,” he said.
“If we could do that in the case of certain modified forms of cholesterol which accumulate in cells of the artery wall, then we simply would not get cardiovascular disease,” de Gray went on.
It’s not about making the world of the future a viable place for the elderly zombies or vegetables. One could imagine a 150 year old man to be no more than some skin hanging on to a skeleton. Dr. de Gray argues that this kind of point isn’t on par with the idea of longevity – that of expanding one’s life span, while improving the health directly proportionally.
“This is absolutely not a matter of keeping people alive in a bad state of health,” he told Reuters. “This is about preventing people from getting sick as a result of old age. The particular therapies that we are working on will only deliver long life as a side effect of delivering better health.”
Dr. de Grey’s prospects sound terribly exiting and frightning at the same time, but his credibility has been challenged in recent past years, formally by a group of nine leading scientists who dismissed his work as “pseudo science.” In response, the MIT Technology Review journal which saw de Grey’s work as forward-thinking and based on ideas yet-to-be-tested by interesting enough for other scientists to follow, offered $20,000 in 2005 for any molecular biologist who showed that de Grey’s SENS theory was “so wrong that it was unworthy of learned debate”. The prize money has never been won to this date.
De Grey’s has been relunctant to give any precise predictions on how long people would be able to live in the future, but what’s very sure about is that in the future as technology and science advance we buy ourselves even more time.
“I call it longevity escape velocity — where we have a sufficiently comprehensive panel of therapies to enable us to push back the ill health of old age faster than time is passing. And that way, we buy ourselves enough time to develop more therapies further as time goes on,” he said.
“What we can actually predict in terms of how long people will live is absolutely nothing, because it will be determined by the risk of death from other causes like accidents,” he said.
“But there really shouldn’t be any limit imposed by how long ago you were born. The whole point of maintenance is that it works indefinitely.”