The extremes of humanity have always fascinated people. In this endless pursuit of longevity, ageing stands as a Brobdingnagian obstacle. Medical science has long been involved in a crusade for curbing old age. Dr. Andrew Steele, a British computational biologist, claims that recent advancements can make it possible to destroy the ‘zombie cells’, thus allowing individuals to live for as long as 200 years. But is this an optimistic prospect for the near future or is it a mere abstraction?
S. Jay Olshansky, a professor of public health and a researcher on ageing at the University of Chicago once said, “A drug that slows the biological process of ageing will be a medical revolution on par with the discovery of antibiotics. Whoever develops the first one will be very, very famous.” Well, the day has arrived and the “very, very famous” personage is Dr. Andrew Steele, a scientist and the author of ‘Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older without Getting Old’. Steele walks us through the principles of ageing biology and shows us how it has paved the way for us to stand where we are now – on the cusp of a medical revolution. In a talk with the MailOnline– the website of the Daily Mail, a newspaper in the United Kingdom, Dr. Andrew asserted that recent developments in the field of senolytics—drugs that try to eliminate cells that impair tissue function— could be essential to human longevity. One such major development that he highly anticipates is the creation of drugs that focus on destroying senescent cells, also known as ‘zombie‘ cells. These cells stop proliferating and begin to build up in our bodies, eventually producing chemicals that quicken the ageing process. He believes that with the onset of such drugs in the marketplace, many individuals will easily be able to achieve a double-century mark.
“I don’t think there is any kind of absolute cap on how long we can live…I can’t see a physical or biological reason why people couldn’t live to 200 — the challenge is whether we can develop the biomedical science to make it possible,” said Dr. Steele to the MailOnline.
The pursuance of a drug for an increased lifespan in human beings has been a crucial objective in the suddenly hot world of ageing science. Multiple tests conducted on mice and reptiles showed highly positive results in different laboratories. However, this does not corroborate the results on humans. The first study evaluating the effectiveness of senolytics was released in the year 2020, in a medical journal- The Lancet. Tested on mice, the research noted: “Broadly, it has been demonstrated in mice that administering senolytic drugs and eliminating senescent cells increase physical function and lengthen health span and lifespan…”. Dr. Andrew Steele pointed to the study of reptiles, mainly a Galapagos tortoise when trying to increase humans’ life expectancy. After succeeding with the creatures, the study on humans has gained ground at a rapid rate. “We’ve reached the perfect storm in ageing science. Everything is happening. We have the foundation from decades of studies on animals. We’re ready to move forward to people,” said physician Nir Barzilai, the director of the Institute for Ageing Research, New York.
Other specialists, in stark contrast, contend that trying to prolong life, even in the name of health, is a doomed pursuit. Given humanity’s long history of hoarding and wasting resources, as well as the enormous socioeconomic disparities that already exist in a world of almost eight billion people; it is fair to assume that most people are anxious about the risk of overpopulation.
The unending desire to live longer has amplified greed among the mortals. The most willing individuals to promote the human trials of these drugs are mainly from the ultra-rich category. A prominent company working in the space of ageing biology is Unity Biotechnology and it has raised more than 300 million dollars from investors like Jeff Bezos and Peter Thiel. While these advancements take place, the idea of living for over 200 years which was once a pipe dream has left us on pins and needles.
The desire to unlock the secrets of longevity and immortality has likely been around as long as humans’ awareness of death. According to experts, it might be that humans don’t comprehend death. Therefore, the infinite desert of death and the thought of not living causes a form of FOMO. In an interview with Time, Paul Root Wolpe, an American sociologist and bioethicist said, “The quest to live forever, or to live for great expanses of time, has always been part of the human spirit…The most difficult and impenetrable thing to us as mortal beings is our own death… We don’t understand it, we don’t get it, and as meaning-laden mortals, we can’t fathom what it means to not exist.”
With the development of this drug, the technology to live far longer is already here. But the question is- Will the politicians, skeptics, hatemongers, powerful nutjobs and people obsessed with death allow it to be executed successfully and respect people who want to live and enjoy life longer? Perhaps the most unpredictable consequence of uncoupling lifespan from our inherited biology is how it would alter our future psychology. The idea that earthly existence is limited and, in the larger scheme of things, relatively short has permeated every aspect of human civilization. If we are born one day knowing that we can reasonably expect to live 200 years or longer, will our minds readily accept this unparalleled scope of life? Or is our neural architecture intrinsically unfit for such broad horizons? Only time will tell.
Ambrisha Zubeen is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Maria Aqdas
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.