New research suggests that humans can significantly extend their life span. But is it plausible?

As we get older, we start to hear the clock ticking louder everyday and our anxiety begins to build up as we start to feel that we’re running out of time to live our life to the fullest. But what if our lives didn’t have an expiration date? Or at least one that was no where as close to the one we presumed. According to biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey, of Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence, this may be the new reality.

Forever Young Imagede Grey is convinced that in the next 25 years, doctors will be able to extend a person’s life span by eliminating diseases that commonly accompany the course of getting old such as heart disease. As de Grey puts it, doctors will be able to “cure” aging completely. Imagine that! If de Grey’s claims are accurate, this means that that the first person to live to be 150 years of age has already been born AND that the first person who will live to see their 1,000th birthday could be less than 20 years younger! So how does de Grey believe this can take place?

De Grey portrays a world in the near future where doctors will have better control over the diseases that cause aging to occur. While there are still many challenges ahead, it is evident that the field of medicine has progressed over the years. We already live longer than previous generations. So is it really that much of a surprise that doctors are finding potential ways to keep people living longer?

Unfortunately, a world where people live for hundreds of years could turn out positive or extremely negative. A healthy, long, fruitful life certainly sounds wonderful. However, if those extra 100 years or so are filled with frailty, this picture is not so pretty.

But de Grey is not looking to establish a world of an older weak population; rather his goal is to ultimately reduce the cases of diseases that people catch as they grow older. While people currently attend to check-ups with their doctors, de Grey’s theory states that soon we will be offered more advanced check-ups where doctors can examine a lot deeper into our body’s condition by conducting gene and cell therapies in order to observe what the human body needs in order to remain healthy and strong.

The Root of Aging
De Grey is one of many who believe in life extension science, the study of slowing down or reversing the processes of aging. This theory states that while today there are various items being sold to stop aging such as skin care, physical fitness, and nutritional products, there is no fundamental evidence proving that these can expand any person’s life expectancy. de Grey believes to get to the root of preventing aging, doctors need to dig deeper into the human body to observe what is causing the body to deteriorate overtime.

There are many elements that come into play when trying to understand the process behind aging, such as a person’s genetics, their health, etc. In particular, de Grey’s perception of age is based on the increase is due to the buildup of molecular and cellular damage that the body undergoes through the course of life. The way in which de Grey describes the expansion of life to be successful is by repairing the molecular and cellular damage to the body over time rather than allow it to worsen which causes disease.

De Grey believes there are seven focal categories that separate impairments in the body caused from aging. These categories include cancer, mitochondrial mutations, intracellular aggregates (harmful junk collected in out cells), extracellular aggregates, cell loss cell senescence (when cells cannot divide), and extracellular crosslink’s (harmful junk collected outside our cells). For some of these areas, more research is needed before any treatments are developed, while others already have experimental therapies that could be useful in terminating damage to the body.

The Cellular Fountain of Youth
Taking a look at another doctor’s point of view, Dr. Jerry Shay, professor of cell biology and neuroscience at UT Southwestern Medical Center discusses his own theory on how life extension can be possible by controlling the cellular functions that take place in the human body. After many case studies, Shay believes that enzyme telomerase, or what UT Southwestern scientists refer to as "cellular fountain of youth,” causes human cells grown in the laboratory to preserve their youth and continue to divide long past the time when they normally stop dividing. Enzyme telomerase basically adds DNA. Telomerase contains DNA material and prevents the loss of important DNA from chromosome ends.

"The expression of telomerase in normal human cells should extend their lifespan indefinitely. From a basic research point of view, we could begin to replace the abnormal tumor-cell lines now being used to study biochemical and physiological aspects of growth and differentiation with normal, yet immortal cell lines" says Shay. The basis of Shay’s hypothesis is that “immortalizing” cells is possible by the use of enzyme telomerase.

Another extreme theory that is being researched is a pill that could ultimately extend the human life span by more than a decade. Dr Arlan Richardson, who led a research on the at University of Texas on the mysterious anti-aging pill called rapamycin created from a chemical found in the soil of Easter Island stated “I never thought we would find an anti-ageing pill for people in my lifetime. However, rapamycin shows a great deal of promise to do just that.” When tested on animals, the chemical in the pill increased the life span by an impressive 38 percent. This pill already is used to suppress the immune systems of organ transplant patients and is used for heart operations but scientist thinks it could be further developed to stop the aging process of humans.

The Truth of Anti-Aging?
Any of these theories sound crazy? Some scientists think so, but the initial theory that life expansion could be possible is not described as absolutely impossible, inaccurate or that it should not be up for deliberation. However, scientists can conclude that such products being sold to prevent anti-aging today are bogus, as S. Jay Olshansky, professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago quotes in a recent article, "No Truth to the Fountain of Youth." He states that while biologists are researching the studying of aging thoroughly, there are no guarantees yet and anyone trying to promote or sell something assuring it will prevent aging is untrue.

Nevertheless, scientists are still determined to find a way to generate life extension and are making claims as they come closer to what they believe are potential solutions to this. As of now, some experts believe that an estimate of three additional months is being added to a person’s life expectancy per year.

However, there are diseases that scientists need to consider when claiming someone’s life can be extended. One that has been recognized to severely hinder many in possessing a longer life expectancy is obesity which has become a spreading epidemic. Another crucial disease that de Grey himself is looking into is cardiovascular disease. This is very dangerous and more likely to become present for those of an older age demographic. However, as time progresses, it is most likely that scientists may find ways to better treat such harmful diseases and hopefully prevent them as well.

Regardless of what ways may be more useful than others to expand the life of a person, the one can conclusion we can make is that that the possibility is there and scientists are determined to have it become a reality.

“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,” says de Grey.