Can the aging process be reversed – or even halted, altogether? If we manage to decode this final mystery of our human biology, we might soon be able to eradicate age-related illnesses like cancer, dementia and heart problems. The race to invent the miracle pill is well underway.
Today, international researchers are getting astonishingly close to realizing humanity’s dream of immortality. The hunt for immortality gained traction with the discovery of Costa Rica’s so-called “Blue Zone,” by Luis Rosero-Bixby. In the “Blue Zone,” on the Nicoya Peninsular, he found a remarkable number of centenarians.
Here, male life expectancy is the highest in the world. Their healthy lifestyle is one factor, but the promise of longevity is probably also because their telomeres – sections of DNA found at the end of chromosomes – are longer than those of the average person. It’s a field of research currently being explored by Maria Blasco in Madrid.
But this is just one of many possible factors influencing the process of aging. Senescent cells may also play a key role. Also known as “zombie cells”, these attack our body in old age and flood it with alarm signals until, at some point, we collapse under their weight. That’s a theory proposed by another researcher in Spain, Manuel Serrano. A billion-dollar industry is already knocking impatiently at the lab doors.
The first to market the miracle pill is guaranteed incredible wealth. That’s why investors are sponsoring young bio-startups in Hong Kong. Keen not be left out, US Big Tech is vying for the world’s best scientists. Alex Zhavoronkov has secured a slice of that pie, with a cash injection of more than 250 million dollars for his company’s work on aging research. Whereas some pioneers’ visions burst like bubbles, others rush to get other, rather more dubious products onto the market. But their efficacy is now measurable.
The epigenetic clock devised by Steve Horvath can measure our biological age, regardless of our actual age in years. With his research on the thymus gland, California’s Greg Fahy managed to not only decelerate the aging process, but reverse it. His initial study on humans showed that a particular drug cocktail took an average two-and-a-half years off their age.
Young biohackers like Nina Khera from Boston want everyone to benefit from this research. Together with friends, she’s working on the “epigenetic clock for all”. But while we’re busy trying to counter the aging process and all the illnesses it entails, fundamental questions arise: Should we be messing with nature like this? Are we about to overwhelm the planet with more and more people? Criminal biologist Mark Benecke in Cologne says that these questions are coming far too late.