The 2009 Nobel Prize winner Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn enthuses that with the introduction of an enzyme, we may be able to hinder the process of cellular ageing, thereby stretching out our lifespan. This would entail the eventuality that the normal lifespan of a new born would be around 120 years of age, with 150 years as a possible ripe old age of passing on.
The hope of this great discovery by Dr. Blackburn and her team is the offsetting of degeneration through advances in molecular science. They found that telomores, which are basically tiny caps that protect chromosomes and the DNA contained within, shorten as we get older with a faster degenerative rate when exposed to heightened stress levels. If that damage is able to be prevented by an enzyme called telomerase, they would be able to (in theory) short-circuit the process and like was pointed out earlier, stretch out the humans lifespan.
With the amount of breakthroughs recorded in the science of life extension, this type of news has stopped sounding like science fiction. Just last year in November, a widely used diabetes drug was fingered as the world’s first anti ageing drug. Researchers had already proven that the drug which is called metformin was able to extend the lifespan of animals, leading up to the go-ahead by the Food and Drug Administration in the US (FDA) to commence human trials to see if the effects could be replicated in humans. The trials are scheduled to commence this year.
An article in The Telegraph about the research on metformin says “When Belgian researchers tested metformin on the tiny roundworm C. elegans, the worms not only aged slower, but they also stayed healthier longer. They did not slow down or develop wrinkles. Mice treated with metformin increased their lifespan by nearly 40 per cent and their bones were also stronger. Last year Cardiff University found that when patients with diabetes were given the drug metformin they in fact lived longer than others without the condition, even though they should have died eight years earlier on average.”
Admitting the possibility that these life extension researches may prove greatly fruitful, it becomes pertinent that discussions begin on some eminently negative sides of an increased lifespan. I will hitherto list some that come readily to my mind;
- The Implications For Population: If the existing humans are able to live longer and more people keep being born, won’t overpopulation become an issue that we’ll be unable to ignore. I know babies are cute and all but they may become an issue when their great-great-great grand parents are still intent on breathing oxygen.
- The Implications For Employment: Correct me if I’m wrong here, but pension funds and retirement packages seem to be at an all time low and weren’t youths protesting in Tunisia just the other day about a lack of jobs? So what exactly are all of us going to be doing when we’re still strong and agile, well within employment requirements at the age of 70, with 50 years ahead of us to look forward to.
- The Implications For Basic Amenities: I’m talking food, shelter and clothing now. Do I even need to spell it out? Is the land going to span out too? You know what, thinking about it, technology and science may solve this one (or not).
- The Implications In Health: What if, just what if our bodies live past our cognitive capabilities (our ability to think and reason clearly) but this is just me giving into my science fiction fetish, we’ll probably be alright.
Anyway you look at it, this is a brilliant breakthrough but with the surrounding environment and conditions, would you opt to take a drug that would elongate your lifespan?