Scientists on the brink of ‘ageing cure’

Cost of living: some companies already sell “cures” for ageing at high prices.

Would you want to live forever? In a new book, one scientist argues that we need to find a “cure” for the ageing process – but some think it would be a mistake to meddle with nature.

A laboratory in Israel achieved something that has never been done before: it reversed the ageing process. By hooking up subjects to pure oxygen for ninety minutes a day, researchers found they could reduce their patients’ biological age.

Andrew Steele, an expert in gerontology, thinks we should be rolling out this treatment to everyone. He argues that ageing causes suffering – and we should do everything we can to prevent it.

The key to human ageing lies in telomeres, strings of DNA that act like caps on the end of DNA strands. They play a vital role in human health, protecting DNA strands and preventing cells from multiplying uncontrollably.

They are responsible for ageing. Each time a cell reproduces, its telomere is shortened. As telomeres shrink, our vital functions slow down and eventually stop. By applying a natural enzyme, telomerase, it is possible to slow down ageing.

Human beings have been “curing” ageing for centuries by improving nutrition.

Modern de-ageing techniques go further. Most rely on drugs which kill degraded cells, leaving the young ones in place.

Some think we should not be trying to halt ageing. They warn that by fixating on living forever, we risk stripping life of its meaning.

Someone who knew they would live forever could not find any interest or joy in life.

Would you want to live forever?

Forever young

Yes. Ageing causes suffering, from the diseases that affect older people, and because younger relatives are forced to watch as they decline. Humans already live much longer than they used to: science is continuing this trend.

No. The promise of eternal life risks distracting us from the immense value of the limited time we have on earth. If we never aged, life would become empty. We would not have any reason to strive to do great things.

You Decide

  1. Should we always try to avoid suffering, at any cost?

Activities

  1. Draw a poster advertising your own cure for ageing.

Some People Say...

“I think of death only with tranquility, as an end. I refuse to let death hamper life. Death must enter life only to define it.”

Jean-Paul Sartre (1905 - 1980), French philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Most people agree that ageing presents a big political challenge. Global life expectancy has increased at an astonishing rate: every year since 1840, it has gone up by three months. However, the growth in life expectancy has had unforeseen consequences. It has led to an increase in diseases associated with old age, like Azheimer’s. And a large elderly population racks up huge costs in social and healthcare, which requires higher taxes on younger people. This can cause generational conflict.
What do we not know?
There is some debate over whether or not cures for ageing are fair. Some worry that they will only ever be available to the world’s wealthiest people, who already consume an outsized proportion of our resources. They argue that if the rich also live 100 years longer than ordinary people, inequality will only grow, with fewer resources left for the poor. But others insist that all scientific advances ultimately trickle down: the rich are not the only beneficiaries of higher life expectancy.

Word Watch

Biological age
This refers to how old a person seems physically, as opposed to their chronological age, which is the number of years a person has been alive.
Gerontology
The study of old age. The term comes from the ancient Greek word geron, meaning “old man”.
Telomeres
Likened to the plastic cap on the end of a shoelace, telomeres protect DNA strands from damage and regulate their reproduction.
Enzyme
A biological catalyst that speeds up a chemical reaction taking place inside a cell.

PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.