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Forever young! I want to be forever young! Do you really want to live forever, forever young?
The song “Forever Young” by Alphaville asks the poignant question if you want to live forever young. It posits that old age and death are a sick, cruel joke and remarks that, “Youth is like diamonds, and diamonds are forever.”
We're entering an age in which aging may become a thing of the past. While people have sought out a fountain of youth, both literally and figuratively, throughout history, going so far as to freeze their bodies in hopes of being revived later, scientists that would've once been considered crazy are now starting to be taken seriously.
The question now is, should we? Just because we can do something, should we do it? The answer will vary from one person to another, and I don't intend to answer it for you, either. I can only share information and allow you to make your own decision.
In 2016, Liz Parrish, CEO of BioViva, injected herself with two different gene modifiers: one to increase the length of her telomeres, considered by some to be a main function in aging, and the other to increase her muscle mass. They weren't large doses, Parrish claiming that she did the demonstration to show the therapies' safety. Even with a small dose, however, her telomeres did lengthen.
Scientist Aubrey De Grey of SENS has stated that the first person to live to be 1,000-years-old has already been born and believes that most people alive today will live to see rejuvenation.
Michael Levin believes that by controlling bioelectricity we will be able to do everything from reverse aging to regrow lost limbs and restoring cancer cells to healthy cells.
A quick search will turn up scores of people in tech, from Google creating its own Calico company to reverse the aging process to transhumanists all backing this research. As Bill Andrews likes to tell people, one day someone will complete a marathon at the age of 150.
This is incredible optimism on the part of researchers. If you'd have told people 50 years ago that scientists would think it totally possible to reverse aging and keep people biologically between the ages of 25-35 indefinitely, they would have laughed at you. Go further and tell them that many scientists in the year 2021 consider aging to be a terminal disease that all people have and they'd laugh even harder.
Yet this is where we are today. All we have to do, according to scientists, is to find the primary causes of aging and fix them. Easier said than done, especially given the sheer number of theories out there, but the process is broken down into multiple steps. The first step, as Bill Andrews says, is to find and fix the shortest fuse. If there are multiple components to the aging process, then we should first discover what's killing people the quickest and fix it. That'll buy us enough time to focus on the other issues and fix them.
I don't know if it's possible to track down every single theory when it comes to aging. What I've done here is compile a list of the most prominent theories.
Telomeres are compounds at the end of your chromosomes. Bill Andrews tells us to think of them as the ends of shoelaces. When a cell divides, the telomeres shorten, thereby limiting the number of times a cell can divide before it dies, or grows senescent. We already have ways to lengthen telomeres, and even some plants are known to preserve them!
When Liz Parrish tested one of her experimental therapies, she managed to successfully increase her telomere length. The peptide Epitalon is also known to increase telomeres.
Not every scientist jumps on the telomere bandwagon, though. You know what else has the ability to regenerate its telomeres? Cancer cells. Depending on your point of view, cancer cells are as powerful as they are, especially later in life, because all of the normal cells around it have shortened telomeres. The theory goes that if these cells had longer telomeres, they could more effectively fight off cancer cells, just as they do in younger, healthier bodies.
Of course, you also have to take into account that just because you've made a cell immortal through gene therapy that lengthens telomeres, it will still accumulate damage and mutate. Some believe that they will inevitably mutate into cancer cells, but others believe that this is, as Andrews puts it, the shortest fuse and should be dealt with quickly.
In mice, lengthening telomeres does a lot to increase their lifespan and restore their bodies to a more youthful state.
Clearing Out Senescent Cells
Cells are damaged by a number of factors: telomere shortening (see above), oxidative stress, DNA damage, inflammation, etc. When a cell becomes senescent, it means it can no longer divide. This is a biological defense mechanism designed to “kill” a cell before it can take on enough mutations to become harmful, as in cancerous. Sounds like a good idea, except it means there's a lot of non-reproductive, damaged cells floating around our bodies, getting in the way of the healthy cells.
If you believe that reversing telomeres, which can pull a cell out of senescence, is a bad idea, as the mutated, newly dividing cell can turn malignant, then you may of the camp that just wants to flush these cells from the body. Without them interfering with healthy cells that are trying to repair and maintain your body, you can defuse the bomb most immediately harmful to your health.
There are actually quite a few therapies for this, even some natural products that have been shown to clear out senescent cells, and in mice, they, again, prove to reverse aging. It's not a permanent fix, but it's a good way to keep yourself healthy long enough for better therapies and solutions to come around.
This one is interesting because if Michael Levin is correct, this may do more than solve the shortest fuse – it could simply cure aging. The idea is that bioelectricity might actually trump DNA when it comes to our bodies. By experimenting with bioelectricity, Levin has managed to create two-headed worms, for example.
Bioelectricity holds the blueprint for our bodies. He believes that it's what's responsible for regenerating lost limbs in certain species, for example. By manipulating a cell's bioelectricity, he believes we restore the body completely.
The biggest question is “Why?” Humans have incorporated aging into our life narrative to a point that it seems completely impossible to disentangle ourselves from it. We fight it constantly through botox, skin cream, hair dye, and even sometimes freezing ourselves, but we still incorporate our finite nature into our narrative arc.
We justify it with platitudes such as, “Life is only precious because it's bound to end!” However, does that mean it has to? Are we better off growing old, feeble, and dying? Let's look at some justifications instead for being forever young.
This, at face value, seems counter-intuitive. Wouldn't a young population just reproduce like rabbits? We already have a problem with our current population size, so why add to it?
Correlation doesn't mean causation, but it's still helpful to point out that the longest-lived populations actually have the smallest birth rates. Third-world countries, where people live shorter lives, are far more likely to have more children while places like Japan, which sports the longest lifespan on earth, are currently struggling with a low birth rate.
There are, of course, many other factors that play into this. Third-world countries may not have the access to birth control, for example. In Japan, overwork may play a role in why birth rates are plummeting.
Even with these factors, however, it's a theory worth exploring. Also, interminable youth would mean it would be far easier to colonize other planets, taking the strain off of the earth. Let's face it, sterilization in human beings is considered wrong and only a fascist would support it.
Less Medical Problems
As we age, we become more prone to health problems. High blood pressure, cancer, bone disease, Alzheimer's – all of them are more likely in aged people. This is not only a strain on our clinics and hospitals, it puts countless people into the rather thankless role of caregiver, and forces friends and family to watch their loved ones deteriorate due to illnesses with pretty Latin names.
There are also many childhood diseases that could be corrected as well. Progeria, for example, could be eradicated, the victims of such disease never knowing youth to begin with!