March 28, 2009 at 11:59 pm #31063
note: short survey of current scientific debate about lifespan.
CAN THE HUMAN LIFESPAN REACH 1,000 YEARS – SOME EXPERTS SAY “YES”
By Rebecca Sato
The Daily Galaxy
March 27, 2009
Cambridge University geneticist Aubrey de Grey has famously stated, The
first person to live to be 1,000 years old is certainly alive today whether
they realize it or not, barring accidents and suicide, most people now 40
years or younger can expect to live for centuries.
Perhaps de Gray is way too optimistic, but plenty of others have joined the
search for a virtual fountain of youth. In fact, a growing number of
scientists, doctors, geneticists and nanotech experts — many with
impeccable academic credentials — are insisting that there is no hard
reason why ageing cant be dramatically slowed or prevented altogether. Not
only is it theoretically possible, they argue, but a scientifically
achievable goal that can and should be reached in time to benefit those
I am working on immortality, says Michael Rose, a professor of
evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine, who has
achieved breakthrough results extending the lives of fruit flies. Twenty
years ago the idea of postponing aging, let alone reversing it, was weird
and off-the-wall. Today there are good reasons for thinking it is
Even the US government finds the field sufficiently promising to fund some
of the research. Federal funding for the biology of ageing, excluding work
on ageing-specific diseases like heart failure and cancer — has been
running at about $2.4 billion a year, according to the National Institute of
Ageing, part of the National Institutes of Health.
So far, the most intriguing results have been spawned by the genetics labs
of bigger universities, where anti-ageing scientists have found ways to
extend live spans of a range of organisms — including mammals. But genetic
research is not the only field that may hold the key to eternity.
There are many, many different components of ageing and we are chipping
away at all of them, said Robert Freitas at the Institute for Molecular
Manufacturing, a non-profit, nanotech group in Palo Alto, California. It
will take time and, if you put it in terms of the big developments of modern
technology, say the telephone, we are still about 10 years off from
Alexander Graham Bell shouting to his assistant through that first device.
Still, in the near future, say the next two to four decades, the disease of
ageing will be cured.
But not everyone thinks ageing can or should be cured. Some say that humans
werent meant to live forever, regardless of whether or not we actually can.
I just don’t think [immortality] is possible, says Sherwin Nuland, a
professor of surgery at the Yale School of Medicine. Aubrey and the others
who talk of greatly extending lifespan are oversimplifying the science and
just don’t understand the magnitude of the task. His plan will not succeed.
Were it to do so, it would undermine what it means to be human.
Its interesting that Nuland first says he doesnt think it will work but
then adds that if it does, it will undermine humanity. So, which is it? Is
it impossible, or are the skeptics just hoping it is?
After all, we already have overpopulation, global warming, limited resources
and other issues to deal with, so why compound the problem by adding
immortality into the mix.
But anti-ageing enthusiasts argue that as our perspectives change and
science and technology advance exponentially, new solutions will emerge.
Space colonization, for example, along with dramatically improved resource
management, could resolve the concerns associated with long life. They
reason that if the Universe goes on seemingly forever — much of it
presumably unused — why not populate it?
However, anti-ageing crusaders are coming up against an increasingly
influential alliance of bioconservatives who want to restrict research
seeking to unnaturally prolong life. Some of these individuals were
influential in persuading President Bush in 2001 to restrict federal funding
for embryonic stem cell research. They oppose the idea of life extension and
anti-ageing research on ethical, moral and ecological grounds.
Leon Kass, the former head of Bush’s Council on Bioethics, insists that the
finitude of human life is a blessing for every human individual.
Bioethicist Daniel Callahan of the Garrison, New York-based Hastings Centre,
agrees: There is no known social good coming from the conquest of death.
Maybe theyre right, but then why do we as humans strive so hard to prolong
our lives in the first place? Maybe growing old, getting sick and dying is
just a natural, inevitable part of the circle of life, and we may as well
“But it’s not inevitable, that’s the point,” de Grey says. “At the moment,
we’re stuck with this awful fatalism that we’re all going to get old and
sick and die painful deaths. There are a 100,000 people dying each day from
age-related diseases. We can stop this carnage. It’s simply a matter of
deciding that’s what we should be doing.”
One wonders what Methuselah would say about all this.
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