What if ageing were many symptoms of a disease called death?
What if a cure could be found for those symptoms and the demise could be avoided forever?
Well, there are those out there who believe they have found that cure, although they won’t be the first to claim so. Many before have sought and been offered an ‘elixir of life’ (in one form or another); however when the time arrived they too have all faced the inevitable, death.
So, why is modern science taking up the banner and perusing the realms that once belonged to the protoscience alchemy? Why do they or we feel so strongly about postponing something that is natural, something which defines us as humans?
SENS Research Foundation has begun this quest into immortality; led by the ‘pioneering’ founder Dr Aubrey de Grey.
Although the work has some under scrutiny, heavy questioning and speculation, Dr de Grey has not faltered in his claims that humans can obtain immortality. He has worked steadily from 2005 to gain respect, following and funding to prove his theories, which cannot be disproved. In fact, some of his theoretical ideas have already been adopted into science and medicine.
SENS (Dr de Grey) worked to identify 7 key pillars of ageing; major causes of cellular and molecular damage resulting in ageing and then death. These are;
Cell loss and atrophy of tissue
Death resistant cells
If these can be cured via vaccination, drugs to target cell suicides, stem cell transplants, and so on and so on, then people have an improved chance of indeed being immortal. To be immortal a body requires tissue immortality, which can be derived by merely replenishing the pool of stem cells indefinitely.
Sounds sci-fi, well, not so.
In Wake Forest Institute of Regenerative Medicine in North Carolina, they are already growing human tissue from; cartilage to whole body organs.
There are labs that harvest stem cells from children’s teeth, so in the future if you require a replacement body part, they can grow it from stem cells.
“We now understand how to fix all of this damage (the above 7 pillars of ageing). For each major class of ageing damage, a strategy for its removal or repair either already exists in prototype form, or is foreseeable from existing scientific developments: see the specific “Rejuvenation Biotechnology” listed for each kind of ageing damage”.
“Even after we use these new therapies to repair an ageing tissue, metabolic processes will continue to cause new damage. This simply means that rejuvenation biotechnologies are not a one-off fix, but will need to be periodically repeated to preserve youthful function. Just as cars need regular rounds of oil changes and spark plug replacements to keep them running smoothly, people will need to go in to rejuvenation clinics to keep up with their regenerative treatments to continue postponing age-related disease”.
Above extract taken from SENS Institute web page: http://www.sens.org/about
So, isn’t future or further progress in the techniques of prolonging life merely just a step on from what methods are currently being utilised??
Implants, bionic body parts, stem cell technology, artificial skin; medications like statins, insulin, blood pressure tablets, HRT and so on and so on – already modify the human body, already prolong life. What is so different with taking this further, fixing every flaw and removing all the ‘junk’ that creates ageing and then death – so that humans could live forever????
Or, is this a case of technology exceeding our humanity?
Perhaps humans are taking control of their own evolution though??? Instead of waiting for some random pick and mix dictated over aeons, to finally reach completion, if it ever does; humans just make themselves evolve.
Yet, do we know enough about evolution and how it works to interfere?
Do we have a right to remove death as a get out clause? Who wants to live, work, love and pay taxes forever?
Is there even a place in the world for someone who is immortal? What new ideas and developments could immortals offer humanity??
What about children and over population if everyone chose to live forever?
Are we playing a game of perfection selection with our bodies – enhancing what we choose and eliminating what we don’t want?
Is it ethical to intervene? Or these ‘experiments’ merely trial and error which is normal to help us progress?? If we don’t explore these new technologies are we ‘cutting off our noses to spite our faces’ and remaining in the dark ages?
Should we live forever? Who would want to?
Would this be the option of the wealthy only? Therefore, allowing them to maintain tenure of power for always with no inroad for a newbie??
If these ‘cures’ were practised what would occur – how would they actually work, or succeed?
Would they alter the human body, genome, and trajectory too much? Would this interfering backfire and produce monsters?
Would it interfere with the normal progression of life too much? Would it impact negatively and possibly kill the human species or the world around us?
Would it trigger new diseases which are only more resilient?
Is this a miracle been made out as invalid science because science is afraid of what progress it could bring?
Is what SENS hope to achieve all theory and no practice?? Too complicated to replicate and reproduce in actual terms within a lab, let alone real life? Is it all pie in the sky?
Tell me what you think about immortality and how you would feel about living forever.
Also, notice I haven’t mentioned a thing about religion on this topic. Perhaps it too has relevance I.E: the soul of a person?? Are we playing God?
Let me know what you think about this science and how it could be effective or detrimental to human nature, life and progress.
The only people, in my opinion, who are afraid of dying are those who have no idea where they will be spending eternity. I don’t want to live forever. Who wants to worry about work, retirement, children, grandchildren, bills, etc. forever? I just want that long rest at the end before we move on to heavenly bodies.
Yes, I am suspicious of those who do not wish to give way for new generations, their motives are odd. I agree, I would prefer to know a time will come when there will be an ultimate change/rest, death. Everything has to end so a change can occur, and we all run our course; our path can’t go on forever!!
Love it … Where do I sign up. 😉
I only wish I knew!! If I find out, I’ll be certain to share the info with you – for a price, hehe!
I thought the post was about “immoral” 🙂
We are immortal. Our bodies break down to chemicals and get absorbed by other people. We are merely masses of energy. We share our lives with the universe. We never really die.
Haha, that is something to consider 😀
I agree with you terrytrekker; immortality exists via reproduction, transference of energy from one to another, and absorption of humans back into the earth after death. New science discoveries would like to go further, and see an actual vision of an immortal. Extending our lives beyond the natural expiry date so to speak!! Maybe even super human IMMORAL, immortals 🙂
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Fascinating topic, but the moral and ethical issues raised by longer or indefinite life-spans are truly frightening.When there are already far too many people on an overcrowded planet in which resources are quickly becoming scarce (fresh water, food, energy) I can only see sci-fi-like outcomes.
I recall Justin Timberlake’s line from the movie In Time – “for a few to live forever, many must die”.
Of course everyone would like to live a healthier life, if not longer. This at least would reduce the burden of dealing with an ever ageing population.
Would you swap an unknown life-span full of potential health issues with say… a guaranteed 60..70 years of full health? Is that a reasonable deal to prevent rampant overpopulation? Sounds a bit like Logan’s Run to me.
I for one hope that this research DOESN’T find the key to immortality. We’re just not ready for it.
Thanks so much for your interesting and articulate response. So many points you have mentioned I can easily concur with.
It is strange you mention the Justine Timberlake film, as I did think of that – especially in reference to the rich and upper echelons of society.
The depletion of resources too would be a worry and reality to again be dealt with if we all lived longer or forever.
I think immortality or increased lifespan opens a mass of alternative issues to be solved. The effect if life immortal is a knock on effect for most other things.
I see there could be positive progress from the technology of immortality, it could offer medicine more answers and cures, but I do question the resulting life increase.
Thanks again for your input on this topic. I appreciate it 🙂
Glad you liked it! I’ve read a couple of items on your blog and found them really well written and thought provoking – the fist blog I’ve bothered to click ‘follow” 🙂
Thanks for that – I appreciate having such feedback from readers! For me putting the posts out there it is good to know I am making sense to other people, and what I write about is interesting to read.
This is an incredible post. I feel grateful to have access to this information. I am a bit creeped out though. I am not sure it qualifies as playing God, because there are still many ways to die other than aging. I am curious to see how this research progresses, and whether the general population has any knowledge of its existence.
Thank you for your kindness Julie. I appreciate your appreciation of my post 🙂
I’m not sure how well this work is known, so I figured it made a perfect post so the info could be spread about. Glad you have gained something from reading it 🙂
It seems a little creepy to consider such things, but it is genuine and based on 100% pure scientific theory, so no sci-fi or ghoulish strangeness! Yet, as a theory it still holds a little oddity, curiosity and mystery, but it is highly exciting to consider the possibilities that lie ahead in the future!!
I actually work in the Institute of Ageing and Health in Newcastle, UK, so I can probably weigh in a bit here. The ex-head of our institute, Professor Tom Kirkwood, proposed a theory called the Disposable Soma theory. Now, bearing in mind he is a mathematician and a computer modeller, it is a bit simplistic (an idea not always found in nature!). He said that we have a finite resource of life and we can spend it in one of two ways; One: You spend most of your energy on reproduction and the continuation of your gene line. Second: You do not invest in the continuation of your gene line and actually invest in yourself which would make you live longer. He proposed this not just for humans but for all organisms.
Now if we factor in the technological advances, new bio-molecular techniques of disease prevention and treatment, ability to regenerate tissues, cells in vitro and an improved understanding of the biological process, it is possible to break free from this system of mortality. For long time, scientists believed that cells had an inbuilt terminal clock which means they will die after a certain number of cell divisions but now we know better, we know that a cell can actually be made immortal and there are currently immortal human cell lines. If we can figure out how to have controlled proliferation of cells (i.e. without tipping the balance over to cancer) immortality can be achieved, no doubt.
And a quick note to your first poster (Malcolm Greenhill), the reason there is even a proposal of a biblical life span is because the nerve cells are not able to divide like many of the somatic cells in the body and therefore they have a fixed (albeit long) lifespan of ~100 years. However, I would say for a fact that they did not know this information when the bible of composed. For them, 120 years seemed like a doubling (or even tripling) of the normal life span of ~45 years.
This is a response I was hoping for – someone with first hand knowledge of this type of work. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and knowledge on this topic.
Yes, I have heard such a theory mentioned, or at least included as a reason why someone might hold an interest in living forever. Children and gene pool v’s maintain self to remain in society longer. Interesting notion, which surely has to have a psychological aspect too.
Yes, this cell immortality (replication) and links to Cancer I have heard before, also it has been raised by SENS. They actually claimed to, in theory be able to cure Cancer.
It is definitely interesting to be able to fathom the knowledge to perhaps manipulate a lifespan, but I wonder what the residual effects of doing so would be to the rest of the human body, DNA??
Thanks again for your input,
The SENS claim to cure cancer is not far off the truth. If we figure out the link that allows us to have controlled and specifically triggered proliferation then we can essentially turn that link off in cancer cells specifically and then just end up with a benign tumour. Cancer is a disease of ageing (in most cases).
The biggest impact of such a finding as immortality would be societal. No researcher at the IAH would tell you that they are working on extending life span but a lot of their research is based on this. The papers they publish will show methods such as calorie restriction, dietary restriction and even drug intervention showing extended life span of mice and human cells. The primate studies so far (only two concluded) have been inconclusive. The researchers will tell you they are working on improving the standard of living and qualify of life in the elderly but the way to do that is to stop the body from deteriorating and once you have done that, what is stopping you from continuing to live? Nothing in my eyes.
Yes, that was it – like a ‘cap’ which would prevent them mutating; “whole-body interdiction of lengthening telomeres”.
I thought such research might be kept quiet; is it because the issue of life lengthening could be classed as taboo do you think? Or, like Frankenstein science??
Yeah, I have read about the mice with one gene altered living until 120 (mice years I presumed)?! The primate studies too, where specimen of the same age were fed restricted and normal diets. The restricted specimens looked and acted younger; weird. Yet, with primates living a good many years the studies are quite longevity anyway, so I suppose conclusive findings will take time.
Indeed, then forever is possible – yet, still although I know it could be done scientifically, I find it so difficult to perceive. It is exciting and frightening all at the same time.
Yeah, I work on telomeres in fact and I can tell you from my knowledge at least, we are still quite a long way away from manipulating them in the way we want.
Life extension itself is not a taboo subject or Frankenstein science, and proof of that is the title for many papers which I see which claim dietary restriction leading to life extension in mice and rats.
I think, if it can be done or not should always be investigated but should it be put into practice should be debated hotly. Basically no one should be allowed to run a private Jurassic Park!
Well, it is good to know that such science isn’t frowned upon; it has so much to offer the future.
Yes, now that is the fear – meddling and creating something completely ‘off the wall’ or something exclusive!
So many issues raised in this post. I think most of us would like to live longer within the typical biblical lifespan of 120. The next question is whether we can extend our maximum lifespan, for example, is it possible to extend the maxium lifespan of humans to say, 140 or 160? I also think that most of us would like to do this if we could retain good health and vitality. However, I’m not sure about immortality. Is there a point, where we would have lived life to the max so many times that we just say to ourselves “enough is enough”?
I’m not sure on the immortality business either. Forever is a long time, and perhaps not the best scenario. I think as you have stated expanding a lifespan until 120 – 160, healthy so on would be OK, after this point, not so good. I have mixed feelings and question who would actually benefit from longevity?
I also wanted to point out the benefit of overpopulation: it’ll give us the incentive to colonize our solar system and beyond.
Is that a good idea??? Inflicting ‘humanity’ on another poor unsuspecting and innocent world???
Inflicting humanity? Come now. We are the only ray of light out here.
I’m not sure I buy that 🙂
Buy it or not, there is no evidence otherwise.
Well, there is plenty I could say that wouldn’t be favourable to humanity, but I’m not going to delve into that now. However, if I was an alien species, I’m not sure I’d be thrilled to find humans suddenly camped on my doorstep!
There is in fact a species of Jelly Fish that is “immortal”. It can regenerate its cells limitlessly and even turn itself younger. It can still be killed by a predator, however. This may be the key.
Thanks for your comment – that could well be the key! Interesting though that maybe we won’t be ‘top predator’ any-longer. If death isn’t part of human life, then something might have to come along to consume and end us, forcing our hand.
If there is any dogma that I can accept in science, it is the second law of thermodynamics: entropy always increases. Maybe we could expand our lives to live for two centuries, or even a millennium, but if our bodies do not change, well, we even change in death. Immortality is not about life and death, it is beyond life and death. Only that which doesn’t live is free of death, but only the living can appreciate that fact.
Actually, I just remembered a scene from “Jesus Christ, Superstar” – we used to watch that a lot in our family: “To conquer Death, you only have to die”. Even if I don’t believe in God or Jesus as our Saviour, I’d say he was dead right about that one
Ummm, I suppose what SENS are trying to promote is a physical ‘overhaul’ like that which a car endures to remain ‘new’. So in essence our body would always be new, and never undergo atrophy or any-other sign of ageing.
I wondered though;,regardless of this regenerative process; would our bodies respond?? Would our ‘essence’ cling to a body just being renewed for the sake of it???
Thanks for your input and interesting points.
Woot! You’re back! I’ve missed you! I’ll have a response after work hopefully.
Thanks you for your prompt response!!!
I am sorry to have kept you waiting 😦 usually I don’t post over the weekend. The reason being is that I like to try and have a break from WP; as I can be quite addicted!!
OK, and I shall look forward to receiving your reply duly!!!!
Oh, no need to apologize. I figured it was something like that. You’re smart, this is so addicting, lol. I think I’m almost through the Honeymoon period and getting a routine down. So I’ll be less of a pest soon. 😀
Oh dear, it is not my intention to ‘hook’ anyone. Again, I apologise. However, I am pleased you like what I write enough to dedicate time to responding so articulately. Without responses like your own, my blog wouldn’t be fun.
Please, maintain the honeymoon period – you are far from a pest. Honestly!
So, to be honest, I am not sure about this. I believe maybe in extending life and doing what we can to cure illness. But living forever? I am not sure I would want to live forever. It might sound great at first but after awhile, I think it would be exhausting, seeing the world around you change. Or it would it change? Would the world lay stagnant from no one ever getting older, no one ever wanting to improve on what the previous generation had accomplished? Even if I could live forever, I would still never have enough time to read all the books that I want to read.
It’s interesting that you mention that we could possibly create monsters because I had the random thought when reading this about The Invisible Man. He was stuck invisible and started to lose his inhibitions from the simple fact that he no longer had to face himself in the mirror. (The Picture of Dorian Gray is also another similar concept along these lines). I am not sure our brains could handle living forever. Eventually we would become something terrible, in my opinion.
In the case of humans, we are kind of backwards when it comes to evolution. The comedy film Idiocracy gives a good example of where our society could end up (obviously a very extreme case but rather funny). I could see where taking control of our evolution might be a good thing, since if we leave it to natural selection we could end up regressing (doubtful). My slippery slope argument: All it is going to take is for someone to start manipulating DNA and creating super-men that I feel the rest of the world will start as to not be left behind.
If, immortality does happen, we really are going to need to figure out where we can put all the people, unless a side effect is infertility. Methinks it is time to seriously start thinking about colonizing Mars! (It doesn’t take much for me to come to that conclusion, lol)
Oo, just read a little above from the guy who has knowledge. I’ll come back and read more from him later. Looks super interesting.
Thanks so much for your interesting points. I have to admit I agree with much of the info you have brought up too.
I think this technology is interesting and also exciting, but my fear is mainly that the rich, and powerful will manipulate and wield the technologies. Exploiting what progress occurs to their favour. The poor will never see these technologies or the benefit of them. I fear the rich will have a permanent tenure and not require votes or rules, as they will be above them; because they will have the ability and money to live forever.
I also fear what could happen if the DNA is tampered with too much, what it could actually cause or unravel – would it cause more issues than good?? Worse illness and so on.
Also your point on how living forever could alter people’s minds, or outlooks – becoming less moralistic and more ‘evil’. Interesting.
Anyway, it all fascinates me, as it has endless possibilities!!!