Ancient books tell of the search for the "fountain of youth," and up until recently this was just a fantasy. Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist and chief scientist of a foundation dedicated to longevity research, believes it will be during his lifetime that doctors will have the means to cure aging.
Along with having all the tools necessary to wipe out the aging process, the cure for aging will also work in banishing diseases that come with old age. The near future looks to bring scientists extending life indefinitely, according to CNN.
de Grey gave a lecture at Britain's Royal Institution Academy of Science recently and talked with the media before the lecture on his thoughts about the possible cure for aging. "I'd say we have a 50/50 chance of bringing aging under what I'd call a decisive level of medical control within the next 25 years or so," de Grey said. "And what I mean by decisive is the same sort of medical control that we have over most infectious diseases today."
The Scientist also painted a picture of what this might look like for people on a quest to stop the aging process. de Grey says he envisions people going to their doctors for regular maintenance. This sounds similar on what we do with automobiles today. The maintenance for humans will include "gene therapies, stem cell therapies, immune stimulation and a range of other advanced medical techniques" to keep them in a healthy state, as all part of the strategy to arrest the aging process.
de Grey won his doctorate in 2000 from Cambridge University and he is also chief scientific officer of the non-profit in which he co-founded in 2009, called California-based SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) Foundation. "He describes aging as a lifelong accumulation of various types of molecular and cellular damage throughout the body," according to CNN.
The cure for aging would entail trips to the doctor periodically to repair that damage done by aging. "The idea is to engage in what you might call preventative geriatrics, where you go in to periodically repair that molecular and cellular damage before it gets to the level of abundance that is pathogenic," de Grey explained.
At this moment in time, without this aging cure, experts estimate by the year 2030 there could be one million centenarians across the globe, this is just from the natural progression of life expectancy as we know it today. An average of three months is added each year to the life expectancy of the children being born. How far and how fast life expectancy will increase in the future if this cure for aging becomes a reality, would be open for debate, says de Grey.
Japan had 44,000 centenarians in 2010 and the oldest living person on record is 122 to date, which is astronomical for numbers when comparing this to what one would expect for longevity for life just 100 years ago. One thing that can get in the way of the trend of the life span getting longer is obesity, which is another train of thought coming from researchers today. This problem is seeping into the developing world and may soon become a world-wide epidemic. Obesity is the one thing that can change your life expectancy and depending on where you fall on the scales, it could alter it greatly.
While de Grey's ideas appear far-fetched to many, this was also the cry from many main stream researchers, but in 2005, MIT Technology Review Journal offered $20,000 to any molecular biologist who could show that de Grey's SENS theory was "so wrong that it was unworthy of learned debate." This was offered after nine leading scientists discussed de Grey's work and called it "pseudo science." This award was never won, so even some of the greatest minds cannot prove that this is an impossibility.
The outcome from this debate concluded that the label of "pseudo science" was unfair, opting to change their response to SENS as, "exists in a middle ground of yet-to-be-tested ideas that some people may find intriguing but which others are free to doubt."
Just the thought of curing aging becomes a debate to even the most common of folk, you do not need a fancy degree to have an opinion on how you will feel about living hundreds of years. The thought of being a few hundred years old is not a welcome outcome for some. If aging was cured, the world's natural population control would be interrupted and this could eventually lead to overpopulation with societies becoming less able to cope. To others a society of weak old people come to mind.
The multi -billion dollar business of anti-aging cosmetics, vitamins, creams and oils is evidence that there are people interested in tackling the aging process, but looking a few years younger than your biological age is one thing and living a few hundred years beyond natural old age is another.
de Grey says that to keep the killer diseases of old age at bay is the primary focus of his research. "This is absolutely not a matter of keeping people alive in a bad state of health," he said. "This is about preventing people from getting sick as a result of old age. The particular therapies that we are working on will only deliver long life as a side effect of delivering better health."
de Grey says that stem cell research is major in his work, "Stem cell therapy is a big part of this. It's designed to reverse one type of damage, namely the loss of cells when cells die and are not automatically replaced, and it's already in clinical trials (in humans)," he said. He is hoping that the stem cell research of today that is being used to treat spinal cord injuries will one day be used to treat damaged hearts and brains.