May 26, 2024

Innovation & Tech Today

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The Quest for Human Immortality

The quest for immortality is as old as recorded history. In recent years, there have been breathtaking breakthroughs in the field of human longevity research that offer the potential to significantly extend human lifespan. Some futurists even predict that at some point science will discover how to make humans immortal. 

Scientists have been studying the mechanisms behind aging for decades, and recent advancements are bringing us closer to understanding how we can slow, and even reverse, the aging process and live healthier, longer lives. “Aging is not an inevitable decline of the human body but is plastic and subject to intervention” said Dr. David Sinclair, Professor of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and co-director of the Paul F. Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging Research.

A Brave New World?

Among the most promising areas of research is cellular senescence. Cellular senescence is the process by which cells stop dividing and contribute to the aging process. In 2021, the US-based company BioAge Labs raised $90 million in funding to continue developing their drug pipeline that targets aging-related diseases. The company has already identified a handful of promising compounds that could dramatically increase human lifespans by targeting cellular senescence.

BioAge Labs isn’t the only company exploring this approach. Another company, Unity Biotechnology, reported in 2021 promising results from a clinical trial of a drug that targets senescent cells. The drug, called UBX0101, was also shown to significantly reduce pain and improve joint function in patients with osteoarthritis.

Credit: Unity Biotechnology

A promising approach to extending human lifespans is the use of gene editing technologies like CRISPR. Researchers are using CRISPR to remove genetic mutations that lead to diseases and aging-related conditions. In 2022, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley used CRISPR to extend the lifespan of fruit flies by up to 60%. While the technology is still in its infancy, the results are promising and could eventually lead to similar advancements in human longevity.

Quality vs. Quanity

In addition to these approaches, there is growing interest in the role of epigenetics in aging. Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression that do not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence. Scientists believe that changes in epigenetic markers play a key role in the aging process. 

“The ultimate goal of aging research is to improve health span, not just lifespan” said Dr. Nir Barzilai, Director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine when asked about the tension between longevity and quality of life.

Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in California have discovered a way to rejuvenate aging cells by resetting their epigenetic markers. The researchers were able to take skin cells from elderly individuals and revert them back to a more youthful state.

Longer Life at What Cost?

While these advancements in human longevity research are exciting, they raise a number of ethical questions. For example, who will have access to these treatments, and at what cost? Will these treatments be available to everyone, or only to the fabulously wealthy? Will these treatments lead to a two-tiered society with an elite class outliving everyone else?

The impact that longer lifespans could have on the economy and healthcare system are just beginning to

Will longer life require us to work longer? Credit: Andrea Piacquadio via Pexels

be studied. With people living longer, there will be a greater demand for expensive healthcare services and an increased burden of retirement programs, like Social Security, on the young. 

How society will adjust to a world when people are living longer. It’s possible that we could see a shift in the way people approach their careers and retirement, with individuals needing to work well into their later years.

Despite these concerns, there is little doubt that advancements in human longevity research have the potential to transform our lives and civilization in unknown ways. With longer, healthier lives, we may be able to spend more time with loved ones, pursue our passions, and contribute more to society. The biggest concern is that the human imperative to avoid death will overtake our planet’s carrying capacity. 

Picture of By Jim Daws

By Jim Daws

Jim Daws is Managing Editor for Innovation & Tech Today.

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