Last Updated on 8 June 2020 by Ray Plumlee
Who wants to live forever? Would you? It should come as no surprise that quite a few of us dream about the possibility. And not just living forever, aging but hanging on. No. We dream about leading a healthy, full life, not confined to our beds, but out experiencing all the world has to offer. There are some people out there who believe that this is an achievable goal, and some who are working to achieve it. It should come as no surprise that the very wealthy would look forward to a long life. Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan, through their Chan Zuckerberg Science program have contributed $3 billion toward the goal of eliminating all disease, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos along with PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel helped to launch Unity Biotechnology in 2016 to develop treatments for age-related diseases. And there are others who take the war on aging and death seriously as well.
Take Bill Faloon, for instance In the late 1970’s he co-founded the Life Extension Foundation, an organization dedicated to the belief that death is not inevitable, but avoidable. Mr. Faloon believes that technology can eventually lead to an end to involuntary death. While this technology is certainly not currently available, he does believe that through various techniques, many people of his age, 63, or younger can live to the age of 130 years. Hopefully the technology will have advanced by this time to enable them to cheat death entirely. Put how would such a thing be possible?
In the year 2013, the academic journal Cell published an article called “The Hallmarks of Aging” which identified nine factors involved in the aging, and subsequent dying, process. Some of these factors contribute to the decline of our young cells, while others help promote various pathologies which lead to our demise. But the article also outlined various processes by which this decline may be avoided. These processes generally fit into three major categories.
First, we can approach the problem of aging with drugs. There are certain drugs which may regulate our metabolism to interrupt the aging process. Metformin is certainly one of these drugs. This pharmaceutical has been used in the United Kingdom since 1958, and in Canada since 1972 in the treatment of type II diabetes. It was approved for use in the United States in 1994. It has been used successfully for decades. But glucose stabilization does not seem to be its only benefit. Not only do diabetics on the drug live longer than those not taking it, they also have a forty percent high risk of developing Cancer. Another drug of interest is Rapamycin, a chemical concoction used as an immunosuppressant in organ transplant patients. Rapamycin mimics a calorie restricted diet, which some scientists believe forces the body to redistribute its resources to a sustain and repair state, rather than a build new tissue stance.
The second prong of a three part attack on the aging process involves rejuvenation at a cellular level. Years ago, most scientists believed cells to be immortal, dividing over and over again without end. But in the 1960’s a microbiologist named Leonard Hayflick discovered that cells can only divide and duplicate themselves between 40 and 60 times. This is now known as the Hayflick limit. In addition, older cells seem to lose the ability to divide correctly, accumulating damage as they age, thus contributing to the aging process of the entire body. One way to avoid this is to rejuvenate ourselves at a cellular level, and this can be done through the introduction of stem cells. If we can replace our aging cells with newborn ones, harvested from human placentas. This has been demonstrated in the procedure to reconstitute bone marrow for the treatment of various diseases. Quite often, if the donor is younger than the recipient, the general biology of the recipient will improve. It can be compared at some level to repairing an old car with new parts. It certainly runs better!
The third focus is on clearing away old cells that have ceased to function. The problem is not only that these cells are no longer contributing to the overall well being of the body, but may, in fact, adding to its decline. Research has shown that these old cells, rather than simply fade away, may be sending out chemical signals interfering with the functioning of healthier, younger cells. Just like old grandpas who love to tell you how things were in the good old days. This may help to increase inflammation, also a negative factor, and even usher in fatal age-related diseases. Killing off these past-their-prime cells is a new focus of the war on aging. Drugs called Senolytic agents have been tested on mice, and the results have been encouraging. The aim, of course, is to destroy the aged celled while leaving healthier, younger cells intact. These successful trials were carried out at the Mayo Clinic’s Kogod Center on Aging. The Center has now received approval to proceed on to human testing on subjects currently suffering from serious diseases related to aging, and are optimistic about the outcome.
Medical and scientific professionals urge patience and caution when dealing with research into the aging process, and caution that they are not really looking for immortality. What they are looking for is an extension of human life, and the possible elimination of debilitating disease often associated with the aging process. We may be able to die healthier, but we will eventually die. One Gerontology researcher, Matt Kaeberlein, a pathology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, has stated that, “Gerontology is science, and immortalism is religion.” It is no mistake that Bill Faloon, the man mentioned at the beginning of this article, has founded his own church, the Church of Perpetual Life, to pursue his goal of immortality. He has the faith required, and is willing to put himself at risk to test some theories. But it remains how many others are willing to do the same. The question has always been the same through the ages. Science or faith? Which will carry the day? And must they always be mutually exclusive? Who’s to say that a little faith can’t work wonders.