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Drug that increases human lifespan to 200 years is in the works

Taken in pill form, the drug would eliminate cells in the human body that are responsible for advancing the ageing process – potentially doubling our lifespan. But is this desirable?

Are you ready to live an additional hundred years?

British computational biologist Dr Andrew Steele has published a new book on the longevity of human life, arguing it is entirely feasible for us to live well beyond a single century with the help of a certain kind of drug.

In the book, he states that research in the field of senolytics – drugs that work to eliminate cells that degrade tissue function – are already showing promising results and could become available on the market within the next decade.

‘I don’t think there is any kind of absolute cap on how long we can live,’ said Dr Steele. ‘I can’t see a physical or biological reason why people couldn’t live to 200 — the challenge is whether we can develop the biomedical science to make it possible.’

Once perfected, the drug would destroy ‘zombie cells’, scientifically known as senescent cells. These cells stop dividing over our lifespan, accumulate inside our bodies, and eventually release compounds that speed up processes of ageing.

In a 2020 trial, mice who were administered the drug showed improved physical function and extended health and lifespan. Given that gene functions in humans and mice are almost identical, many believe we could reap the same benefits.


What’s the appeal?

The invention of this type of drug begs the question: who actually wants to live to the age of 200? Well, you might already have an idea.

Those openly expressing the desire ‘to live longer than the average human’ are amongst the wealthiest in the world, already enjoying a quality of life that is undeniably privileged, comfortable, and ultra-luxurious in comparison to most others.

A prime example is Jeff Bezos, who recently invested a huge portion of his wealth into developing cellular reprogramming technology that reverses ageing processes. The man is determined to ‘live forever’, and with a net worth of around $200 billion, who wouldn’t find ease in living a couple more decades?

For the rest of us mere mortals, the idea of adding a hundred years to our lifespan at a time where things seem to be worsening before our eyes (growing social and economic inequality, deteriorating natural ecosystems, and a warming climate) might sound like signing up for bonus seasons of suffering.

A majority of us haven’t and likely never will acquire billionaire or millionaire status, so is living until the age 200 reasonable? Is it sustainable? What even is the retirement age when life goes on for two centuries?

Perhaps I’m being too pessimistic. For some, the appeal might lie in having more time to achieve dreams, goals, and to accomplish life’s work. Donning my rose-coloured glasses, I can get (somewhat) behind this. But as with everything, there’s a catch worth mulling over.


Can Earth sustain millions of 200-year-old humans?

It would be valuable to consider the benefits of only living about 100 years, and at the same time question whether planet Earth could sustain a scenario where people don’t cease to rely on it in a timely matter.

Let’s paint the picture.

Today, 3.3 billion people are considered highly vulnerable to climate change – a figure that is expected to climb in coming decades. The World Health Organisation estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate induced food scarcity, disease, and heat stress will result in an additional 250,000 deaths or more annually.

Amidst these harrowing estimates, minuscule steps are being taken by world leaders and corporations to slow (better yet, halt) planetary heating.

All the while, we are rapidly approaching a global human population of 8 billion. Bear in mind that many scientists believe 9-10 billion is Mother Earth’s maximum capacity, based on calculations of resource availability.

Speaking of resources, 698 million people – 9 percent of the global population – live below the poverty line, earning around $1.89 per day. When day-to-day life is simply a matter of survival for so many, what will happen when the elite start laying claim to things like water, food, energy for another century?

On top of this, it’s unlikely socioeconomically disadvantaged groups would obtain access to an age-defying drug in the first place, which presents a handful of other serious moral dilemmas.

So sure, I’d love to be able to see the benefits of living 175 more years – guaranteed extra time to sunbathe and make a bigger dent in my Goodreads list would be a dream – but it’s hard to imagine how a ‘life-extending’ drug would be sustainable in the long-term.

Martin Luther King Jr. once said that ‘The quality, not the longevity, of one’s life is what is important,’ and it’s reasonable to think that most people would agree. If the drug was used to prevent overall deterioration of health into our last days, to make life more enjoyable rather than extending it as a whole, perhaps that’d be more appealing.

But if the planet we live on can’t handle the pressure, how many people will think living another century sounds pleasant? Until the drug is approved and on shelves, it’s impossible to know.

Unless it’s Jeff Bezos. You can count him in.

 

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