Live Longer

Words: Werner Jessner and Arek Piatek
Illustrations: Alex Williamson

…than Jeanne Calment. Tackling the consequences of ageing is the key to longevity.

The Red Bulletin takes a look at mankind’s current records – and how far we are from our absolute peak. Next up: Ageing

The anti-ageing business is as old as it is potentially never- ending; the person who can conquer death will be set for life—well, financially at least. Humankind has already attempted the most creative of solutions, from being cryogenically frozen to ingesting snake venom and inhaling the breath of virgins. But few people have seen the benefits thus far—beyond the inventors of these “cures” themselves.

Now that could all be about to change, thanks to big data
and science joining forces. In 2013, Google set up a biotech company, Calico, with the goal of understanding and combating the causes of ageing. Google’s specialists will collate, filter and link data that they suspect is responsible for the ageing process.

For example, which genetic predispositions and environmental factors speed up or slow down illnesses that lead to death farther down the line? Also, who or what is responsible for our cells’ repair mechanisms either failing or going out of control and causing cancer? (And how did France’s Jeanne Calment get away with smoking until she was in her 120th year?) 

Only once you understand the links can you aim to shut off deadly factors using immunostimulants, stem cell or gene therapy, or simply early recognition; if you know you have a predisposition to a certain disease, you can begin to fight against it, within certain limits, right away—look at Angelina Jolie’s radical approach to her risk of breast cancer, for example.

Getting older 

Current world record: 122 (Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997)
Predicted world record: 150 (soon), 1,000 (some way off)

British researcher Aubrey de Grey is one of the best-known proponents of what he calls preventive geriatrics, the principle of swapping harmful cells before they become pathological. He’s convinced that the first person to reach the age of 150 has already been born, and even considers it possible that, one day, humans might live to 1,000.

According to de Grey, ageing is the most common cause of death. Having so far isolated seven types of ageing damage, he is currently looking into forms of prevention. (We’ll think about what that would mean for the Social Security system and the function of society in general when we get there.) Creators of effective treatments won’t have to worry: The market for life-extending medicine will increase by a factor of 10 over the next decade, making it worth some $20 billion. 

THE upshot

Google is right: We’ll all live to be 150. And if they turn out to be wrong, we’ll write them a strongly worded letter of complaint from beyond the grave. 

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08 2015 The Red Bulletin

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