The fountain of youth springs eternal—or at least, has the capacity to—according to scientists invested in longevity research.
Longevity, which refers to the burgeoning industry dedicated to the expansion of the healthy human life span, has become somewhat of a buzzword in the scientific community in Silicon Valley. As billions of dollars are poured into research on understanding how best to slow the inevitable forces of aging and death, questions of social and moral implications still simmer under the surface of solving the “problem” of age.
Each human grows older—every hour, every day, every year. It’s a universally accepted fact of life, and yet some scientists are increasingly focused on reversing the aging process. As disease and years of increasing debility plague elderly members of society, the push towards unearthing a means of living a fuller, healthier and longer life is in full swing.
Companies such as Calico, short for California Life Company, and Human Longevity Inc. (HLI) are taking the lead in researching methods of staving off the process of aging. While Calico is focused on the development of potentially age-defying medicine, HLI plans to compile a database of human genome sequences in order to fully understand what makes for a long and healthy life.
The propensity for medicine to tackle age-old problems of illness and decline holds substantial meaning not only for individuals but also for the United States and the world at large. According to the HLI website, global healthcare expenses total a whopping $7 trillion, with half of this number accounting for funds spent on extending an elderly person’s life.
The impact on both quality and quantity of life and economies is clearly tremendous, but a consensus has yet to be reached as to whether dramatic increases in lifespan are possible. For some in the scientific community, the current medical approach of curing diseases one at a time must eventually be replaced by attacking aging at the root. With the development of several drugs shown to have age-defying effects, it seems there may be reason for optimism with regards to prolonging life.
Scientist Aubrey de Grey, an avid crusader of the longevity industry, believes the indefinite expansion of life through preventative medicine is not only possible but probable.
“There is an increasing number of people realizing that the concept of anti-aging medicine that actually works is going to be the biggest industry that ever existed by some huge margin and that it just might be foreseeable,” Grey said.
Conversely, Nir Barzilai, director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, is staunch in his belief that current biological estimates of human life cannot be exceeded.
“Based on the biology that we know today, somewhere between 100 and 120 [years of age] there is a roof in play, and I challenge if we can get beyond it,” he said.
Regardless of whether science can or cannot debunk the problem of age, the question remains of whether society can or should accommodate a much longer life. Societal structures would take on a much different shape, with the work force, population, and family size being only several of many factors to be considered.
Living a substantially longer life could have serious repercussions on individual perceptions of life and the will to “make every day count.” While the longevity industry will likely continue to expand, it remains to be seen whether research can indeed break the barrier of age.