The search for eternal youth

The search for the elixir of life has existed since time immemorial
The search for the elixir of life has existed since time immemorial

Recent reports in the press have highlighted the sad case of a 14 year old girl’s search for immortality and her fight to have her body frozen after her death. Her hope is that medicine will advance enough to allow her to be brought back to life, cancer free at some point in the future.

Ever since time immemorial humans have endeavored to extend our natural life span. In the middle ages, life expectancy was in the order of 40 years. By 1900 you could expect to live to around 59, and today average life expectancy has reached 80 years give or take. The oldest human that ever lived has reached 122 years and the annual rate of mortality amongst any given age bracket e.g. over 80’s continues to fall as we extend our lives through modern medicine, diet and education. But what about pushing it further. Are there strategies that could be employed to extend our lives even further?

One strategy that has proven successful in animal studies is calorie restriction. Reducing calorie intake significantly over an extended period, has been shown to increase life expectancy. We don’t know yet if this method can be successfully transferred to humans, but this hasn’t stopped calorie restriction devotees from adopting it. Scientists are currently studying the metabolic pathways that are used when the body is under calorie restriction in the hope of developing a drug that can mimic the effects of calorie restriction without the actual calorie restriction and associated dangers.

Other research has focused on the role that DNA plays in ageing. It is now thought that managing the ageing process on a DNA level may lead to significant benefits in terms of life expectancy. Research on human cells in the lab, has shown that by extending certain parts of the human chromosome, called telomeres, scientists have managed to essentially turn black the clock on cell ageing.

And finally, another interesting, rather wide ranging and somewhat controversial approach is that of a Dr Aubrey de Grey who believes that the first person who is going to live to be 1000 has already been born. He believes that through the manipulation of seven aspects of ageing that humans will be able to pause ageing and essentially rejuvenate. For example a 90 year old can be transformed into a 60 year old through treatment and this cycle can continually be repeated, in effect pausing ageing. Whilst we are not there yet, De Grey thinks it is only a matter of a time. Unfortunately for him, time is swiftly moving along.