The debate is not whether we’ll celebrate more birthdays but how many more
I published a piece called “Do You Want to Live Forever?” on Thrive Global last year about how scientists say they’ll soon extend the human lifespan to 125. I mentioned a Cambridge educated researcher who argues that aging is simply a disease — and a treatable one at that.
People grow old in seven basic ways says Dr. Aubrey de Grey, all of which can be prevented. De Grey believes that the first people who will live to 1,000 years have already been born.
Wearing long hair and a beard down to his chest, the 54-year old de Grey is co-founder and chief science officer of the SENS Research Foundation, an organization whose mission is to find a way to extend the healthy human life span by hundreds of years. The seven types of aging damage de Grey is working to correct are: tissue atrophy, cancerous cells, mitochondrial mutations, death-resistant cells, extracellular matrix stiffening, extracellular aggregates, and intracellular aggregates.
“What in the world are those things?” you might ask. It sounds like a lot of scientific, medical mumbo jumbo. My mind wanders just typing the sentence. Probably the same reaction most of you have reading it. But de Grey claims that because science already has an understanding of how to fix these seven things, aging can soon end for good.
In fact, in the not too distant future de Grey (shown above) says we’ll have rejuvenation clinics where people can drop in to battle aging. He says these anti-aging shops will only be for the wealthy at first, but that a movement will develop powerful pressures to make them available to the middle and lower classes.
I know, I know. Most of you will say that de Grey is off his rocker. In fact, according to stories around the web, Emory University’s Dr. Paul Root Wolpe, a bioethicist consultant for NASA, calls de Grey’s scientifically unsupported assumptions the work of “an evangelist for a religious vision of Utopian health.”
That may be true. But you can’t ignore that some bigwigs like PayPal billionaire Peter Thiel are heavily supporting de Grey, according to a February 2018 story in the UK’s The Times.
So just for the heck of it, let’s look at some other recent research that sort of backs up de Grey’s ideas about slowing the aging process.
Take, for example, a group of researchers at the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Harvard Medical School. This team believes they’re getting closer to slowing down aging thanks to a molecule called nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (mercifully, called NAD+ for short).
Discovered in 1906 and found in all living cells, NAD+ is required for the biological processes that make life possible. Just ask any high school biology teacher and you’ll learn that NAD+ has two important roles: to turn nutrients into energy so we can eat, think, and walk; and to repair DNA damage from aging.
But here’s the real important thing: NAD+ levels decline steadily with age. And according to Harvard professor of genetics David Sinclair, as quoted by Time Magazine, “…without it, you’re dead in 30 seconds.”
In a March 2017 study published in the journal Science, a team of researchers including Sinclair gave drops of water containing a compound known to raise levels of NAD+ to a group of mice of different ages. The results were dramatic. In only one week, signs of aging in the muscle tissue of the older mice not only reversed, but the team could not tell the difference between the muscle tissue of a 2-year old mouse and a 4-month old one.
Of course, there is a big difference between mice and humans. So can any of this be applied directly to people? Maybe.
According to a November 2017 study published in the journal Nature, a different team found that people who took a daily supplement containing NAD+ had a substantial, sustained increase in their NAD+ levels for eight weeks.
As a result of these studies, Sinclair hopes to take his NAD+ work through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process and eventually manufacture a pill that you and I could purchase with a prescription from a doctor.
But a product that lengthens the lives of mice in a lab may already be available as an over-the-counter vitamin that doesn’t require clinical trials or approval by the FDA.
A company called Elysium markets a supplement called Basis. While Elysium is careful to hype “cellular health” rather than claims about anti-aging, one of the main benefits of Basis is that it contains an ingredient known to boost NAD+ levels.
Because there is no guarantee that Basis will actually keep you young, Elysium is conducting clinical research with the goal of obtaining FDA approval of Basis as an anti-aging drug. This research, plus that of Sinclair and de Grey, may one day soon make death optional.
Given all this scientific work — and given that millions of dollars are pouring into longevity research from big enchiladas like Oracle co-founder Larry Ellison and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos in addition to PayPal’s Thiel (Elysium has not named its investors but has several Nobel prize winners advising it) — it seems possible that the debate is not whether we’ll celebrate more birthdays but how many more.
What do you think about that? Do you want to live forever? How much life is too much?
Originally published at medium.com