Who Wants To Live Forever?
2019 was the year of spectacular news, generated from the field of aging research. Supposedly, scientists had succeeded in slowing down the aging process, stopping it, even reversing it. As if life was an hourglass and we had learned how to stop time from running out by popping a pill, or even how to reverse the life flow.
Now, I am often asked how I assess this development, probably because MetrioPharm works in the field of inflamm-aging – inflammatory diseases of aging.
And indeed, one must wonder what we can expect from these promises. In the US, especially in California, there is a movement of scientists and entrepreneurs claiming that we now have the ability to live up to a thousand years.
Just as if ageing had become an individual option and all we ought to wonder about is: do we even want to live for a thousand years?
But I do see a problem right there: the human body is more complex than the metaphorical hourglass. In our organism there is a constant process composed of countless biological and cellular incidences, which collectively we call ageing.
Some aspects of this process can already be understood, some of them can even be manipulated. It has been shown that our metabolism plays an important role in ageing; mutations caused by ageing have been detected in the genome. I suspect that in the coming years we could see interesting, perhaps groundbreaking new results in both research areas.
However, we are at the very first step of a long, complicated journey. Some of the new approaches are at the stage of first animal experiments, others still consist of observations and hypotheses. Some research projects will deepen our understanding, others will prove to be dead ends.
Age as such, this complex biological and medical phenomenon, has not yet been fully understood by the scientific community.
For example, will we have access to a single pill that stops all the processes of aging at the same time, at some point? Certainly not in the foreseeable future.
In any case, I would argue that this is not the decisive question of our time. Because we are ever growing so much older, anyway. Modern medicine and healthier lifestyles mean that life expectancy is constantly increasing. In Germany, the average life expectancy ranges by 80+ years.
The healthy life expectancy, however, is well behind, at about 60 years. For many people, this means that chronic diseases accumulate, especially towards the end of their lives. For many seniors, pills, therapies and hospital stays become the norm – I still remember the cycle of progressive geriatric diseases very well, from my time as a clinician. I am convinced, that this is where the great medical challenge of our generation lies.
The “super-old” are undoubtedly going to be a societal group in need of catering to on many levels. With the potential of research and development, we can work to ensure that they age in a healthier way. That would be a decisive step forward, from which, ultimately, we could all benefit.