Could there be a cure for ageing?

A new approach to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and cancer

By curing Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease and cancer, some scientists say we could live forever.

Earlier this month, 200 scientists descended on Queens’ College Cambridge to discuss ways of radically extending human lifespan – and even achieving immortality. The Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) conference, drew together researchers from disciplines as diverse as tissue engineering, artificial intelligence, law, demographics and politics.
 
‘Most people fail to understand how fast medical science is advancing in this area,’ says the conference organiser Dr Aubrey de Grey, editor-in-chief of the journal Rejuvenation Research and co-founder of the SENS Foundation. ‘Conventional medical progress has ensured that a child born today can expect to live 120 to 150 years. I think it’s possible for them to live far longer.

‘If we make the right breakthroughs in the next 25 years, then there is a 50:50 chance that people alive today could live to be 1,000 years old.’

The ‘normal’ rate of medical progress ensures that life expectancy increases by about two years every decade. This ensures that for every hour that passes, you have gained 12 minutes of life expectancy. Accelerate the rate of progress, and you stand a chance of achieving ‘take-off’ – the point at which life expectancy increases faster than the population ages.

The scientists are not looking for a single ‘magic bullet’ to cure ageing but are instead battling the diseases of old age such as Alzheimer’s, cancer and cardiovascular disorders. They believe that if you successfully treat or cure such diseases, then death will be postponed, perhaps indefinitely. Immortality will become a side-effect of medical progress.

Amidst all of this optimism, some scientists are urging caution. Richard Faragher, chair of the British Society for Research on Ageing, worries that the claims made by Aubrey de Grey and the other ‘immortalists’ is obscuring other areas of medicine that will benefit patients far more.

‘Aubrey is effectively a science-fiction writer,’ says Dr Faragher. ‘There are many ways that public health can be improved through simple measures such as managing hip fractures more effectively. We should be focusing on these things rather than dreaming about immortality.’

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