Extended life spans 'within reach'
By Aubrey de Grey for CNN
De Grey: "People born just 20 years apart can expect life spans differing by many hundreds of years."
(CNN) -- It is 2020. Life expectancy is still in the 80s and the world record life span is still 122.
But humanity's attitudes to aging are unrecognizable from a decade ago, because of techniques that greatly extend the healthy life span of normal mice -- with therapies only begun at middle age.
In 2000, Cambridge biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey began to develop and promote a radically new approach to postponing aging which he termed "Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence."
During 2005 de Grey enjoyed extensive media coverage, triggering belated analysis of SENS by top biogerontologists goaded by the media's dissatisfaction with the absence of such critiques.
Most acknowledged that it could indeed, possibly, work in mice in a few decades -- though de Grey's projected timeframe of just one decade was generally rejected.
That was enough for one man -- the flamboyant computer billionaire Larry Ellison -- to decide that there was a case to answer and that his wealth would answer it.
Ellison already funded research into aging, but that had hardly differed from work funded routinely in the U.S. by the National Institute of Health (NIH).
But with $100 million per year guaranteed for 10 years, de Grey mobilized the relevant biomedical communities toward the single-minded goal of making already middle-aged mice live much longer healthy lives.
Translating such progress to humans would take unknown further time, but dramatic success in mice would speed that translation by snapping humanity out of the "pro-aging trance" that had made us apologists for a phenomenon that killed 100,000 people every day.
Progress was faster than most predicted and by 2015 mice were living to five rather than three from treatments begun at age two.
The reaction was indescribable, driven especially by the realization that we may soon achieve not only a few decades of life extension but actual "escape velocity," where the remaining imperfections in rejuvenation therapies are being eliminated faster than they catch up with us.
People born just 20 years apart, either side of the escape-velocity cusp, can thus expect life spans differing by many hundreds of years -- and no one knows when that cusp will arrive.
A genuine war-time attitude has gripped humanity, with tremendous sacrifices being made in order to end the slaughter as soon as possible.
Cryonics companies are besieged with sign-ups. Salaries in the fire service and other dangerous professions have trebled.
Taxes have risen by 30% -- not merely to fund the clinical research but also to train the armies of medical personnel that will, perhaps very soon, be needed to administer these therapies and manufacture the necessary consumables.
In 2020, clinical work still only creeps forward and life expectancy remains obstinately constant.
But finally, for the first time in the history of humanity, there is confidence that civilization's greatest scourge will soon be conquered.
-- Dr. Aubrey de Grey is a geneticist at Cambridge University and the head of the SENS project. He claims average human life spans could soon be extended by hundreds of years.
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