People have long dreamt of extending the human lifespan from the biblical “three score years and 10” (70) to reach Methuselah’s 969 and beyond.
Demographic statistics show remarkable progress in fending off death, at least in the developed world. In reality, average life expectancy in biblical times was not 70 but about 35 years. In Britain this rose to about 50 in 1900, 76 in 1990 and 82 today.
Medical progress at the current rate would let most people born later this century live beyond the age of 100. But many people are more ambitious than that.
Google’s Calico subsidiary and Human Longevity, started by genomics pioneer Craig Venter, are looking to extend life by finding new ways to treat diseases associated with old age. At the more extreme end Alcor, an Arizona cryonics company, freezes people after death in the hope that they can be brought back to life at some future point when medical technology is more advanced.
At the same time, the transhumanist movement, which aims to enhance human beings with every scientific and technological means available, gives the search for immortality a political dimension. The Transhumanist party is fielding a US presidential candidate this year in the form of Zoltan Istvan.
Ageing is such a complex biochemical process that there is no simple route to a healthy life lasting well past 100 years old.
At the whole-body level there are many ideas for molecular intervention to slow down or reverse the deterioration, from rebuilding the telomere “caps” that protect human chromosomes to resetting the markers that switch genes on and off.
Individual organs or parts of our body can also be enhanced or rejuvenated to counteract failures due to age or disease.
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