The first 150-year-old man may already have been born, according to Leonard Guarente, a professor of biology at MIT (The Coming Death Shortage, Atlantic Monthly).
Let’s set aside the pre-diluvian human life span for a moment and focus on our modern life span.
Have we found the Fountain of Youth?
Can we really extend our life expectancy and our quality of life past 100 years? If so, how can we afford to live 15, 20, even 50 years longer?
According to Dr Guarente, we may be about to see something never before seen in human history: a rise in the maximum possible age at death (as opposed to the ‘average’ life span).
Making ‘immortal' mice.
The list of potential longevity treatments being worked out in laboratories at this time is approaching real-life Sci-Fi. Regenerative medicine is a branch of research in molecular biology which deals with the process of replacing or regenerating human cells/tissues/organs to restore their normal function. This approach attempts to repair the biological damage of aging and thereby improve both the length and quality of old age.
Scientists are working to discover and correct the mechanisms of biological aging at the cellular level. A respected theoretical geneticist at Cambridge University, Aubrey de Grey, argues that the first steps toward "engineered negligible senescence" (fancy-talk for scientically engineered virtual immortality) would have "a good chance of success in mice within ten years." These same therapies, De Grey says, should be ready for human beings a decade or so later.
He describes 7 major kinds of things which cause cellular damage and ultimately lead to decline and death. His good news is that “We can describe a generic therapy that can be used for each of the types of damage.”
Put in simpler terms, the cellular damage responsible for ageing and death can be repaired, according to Aubrey de Grey.
Negligible senescence is the lack of symptoms of ageing in an organism. Death rates in negligibly senescent organisms do not increase with age as they do in senescent organisms (That’s you and me). Once a negligibly senescent organism reaches maturity it is equally likely to die at any given age. In other words, scientists have not detected an increase in mortality rate after maturity. There are a number of examples of animals thought to be negligibly senescent:
There are a number of examples of animals thought to be negligibly senescent:
Rougheye rockfish 205 years
Aldabra Giant Tortoise 255 years
Lobsters 100+ years
Freshwater pearl mussel 210–250 years
Ocean Quahog clam 507 years
Hydras Observed to be biologically immortal
There is a species of negligibly senescent jellyfish (Turritopsis dohrnii) that is especially interesting. When this mature jellyfish is sick or old, it can revert to its prepubescent (polyp) stage. That is, it reverses back to its pre-puberty stage. This ability makes them biologically immortal.
(I’m not sure I would want to go back to the hormone-raging pre-puberty stage of life, but who knows.)
The question is “Can the ‘immortal’ properties of the cellular structure in these negligibly senescent animals be adapted to humans?”
Or at least, “Can things like macular degeneration, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and other age-related conditions be eliminated or reduced through Bio-med?”
Some think so.
Dr. James Vaupel (Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research, Rostock, Germany), believes that life expectancies might hit 130 years in some countries by 2050.
“There is no reason to believe that life expectances can’t continue to go up two to three years per decade,” Vaupel told The New York Times. “Biomedical progress is really impressive. We are beginning to understand cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease. In animal models we are beginning to understand how to slow aging itself.”
In 1776 the average U.S. life expectancy was 35 years old.
In 1900 the average U.S. life expectancy was 47 years old.
In 1930 the average U.S. life expectancy was 60 years old.
In 2015 the average U.S. life expectancy is 75 years old for men
(81 years old for women).
Imagine a society in which there are grandparents who still buy birthday gifts for their own grandparents. Imagine children getting to know their great-great-great-grandma. The speculation that life spans could dramatically increase in the next 40 years leads to some interesting financial questions. The main one being, “Will you outlive your money?”
What happens, financially, if people regularly live to 120? Do they keep working until they’re 95?
What pressures would employers have to eliminate much older (and expensive) employees in favor of much younger (and cheaper) ones?
What would the work environment look like for workers who could be 80 years younger (or older) than their co-workers.
When would the U.S. government begin social security benefits; 95 (if at all)?
What would financial advisors say;
“Well, if you invest $10,000 now when you are 32, by the time you are 120, it will be worth…” (Their investment/retirement calculator software currently does not go that high!)
How many people would be able to afford to live to 120, even if they were spared the ravages of old age? Imagine a large, healthy population of 120 year olds.
There is currently pressure to raise the retirement age to 70, but this is because the federal government is running out of money to pay promised benefits. What if that pressure is compounded by a population that lives remarkably longer?
One can now better understand Leonard Guarente’s title
“The Coming Death Shortage”.
What should you do, now, financially, while scientists work to reduce and reverse cellular damage and give us a chance for a much longer life?
One thing, I think, is to get your financial house in order, now, so that it will be in good shape when you blow out 120 candles on your birthday cake.
(Use a hair blower).
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