The Scientific Race to Stop Human Aging


{image by Immortality Institute}

In her latest blog post, Sassy Lawyer pondered Is the world moving too fast for comfort?

I felt dizzy after reading all that. Though I’m not sure if it was from excitement, worry or fear. It did cross my mind that The Matrix may not be as fictional and far-fetched as we’d like to think.
Her insight reminds me of the 2nd part of Dr. Michio Kaku's Documentary on Time:

Video: Lifetime (59 mins.):

Dr. Michio Kaku's did an experiment which showed that as we get older the world around us seems to go faster. The truth is, it is not that the world is moving too fast for comfort, it is this: our body as we grow older slows down. The more we age, the more our metabolism, reflexes and reaction time dwindles, until we come to a point where the world seems to to be so fast we can't cope - our biological clock stop ticking, time literally run out for us - death.

Michio Kaku asked: is our time limited? Could immortality ever be possible? He explores these questions and meets some of the key people involved in the cutting-edge research into aging.

Billions of Dollars on Biotech

"We've treated the human genome project as a priority every year because we all want to live forever"

- Bill Clinton, during a Press Conference, 2000

The science of defeating aging is lumped in category known as biotechnology. The biotech sector suffered a slump during the dotcom bubble burst, but as of late has seen a tremendous growth, with billions of dollars of investments being poured into the sector. The stocks of biotechnology is so hot today that Martha Stewart was jailed for manipulating her investment in Biotech company primarily involve in the research of curing cancer.

One of the richest man on this planet, Warren Buffett plans to donate 85% of his personal wealth to the Gates Foundation. The foundation is, among others, funding biotech companies. Paypal co-founder and former CEO Peter A. Thiel, pledge millions of dollars, to support the research in stopping aging.

Death has never made any sense to me.. how can a person be there and then just vanish, just not be there? Death makes me very angry. Premature death makes me angrier still.

- Larry Ellison, former board member of Apple

Larry Ellison, the billionaire CEO of software giant Oracle, created The Ellison Medical Foundation, with the sole purpose of halting aging. Larry contributes more than 20 million dollars per year for aging research.

The Average Lifespan Increasing

life expectancy

{gender chart by Sciencemag}

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.

- Woody Allen

Is it natural to increase our life span? The answer is: we are already unnaturally prolonging it. Consider for example the average life span during the Classical times (Greece or Rome). If you are alive during the time of Plato or Julius Cesar, you are expected to live no more than 28 years old. Or how about during the medieval times of knighthood? You are lucky to live the average life span of 33 years. Fast forward to the 19th Century, and your odds of breathing after your 20s is a decade better than during the Classical times: 37 years old average.

According to World Factbook, except for the Sub-Saharan Africa wherein the HIV is an on-going epidemic, the average life expectancy around the world as of 2006 is 67. That is, I can expect to live up to 40 more years (Philippines: 70).

To get a clearer picture of the dramatic increase in life expectancy, you need rigorous records to prove it. Since reliable records on deaths can be traced back to only last century, that is where we should look. In the United States, life span at the start of the 20th century was about 47 years. As of 2006, the average is 78 years. That is by any standard an impressive leap.

The Global Trend towards Longevity

This upward shift to long life is a worldwide trend. As recent as 1950s, the average lifespan of those living in China is about 35 years. Now, the average life duration of a Chinese is 72 years of age. In India, its the same, from an average of 32 years to more than 68 years in 2006.

What caused the sudden increased of life spans? During the last century, medical and health advances such as antibiotics, vaccines, proper nutrition lead to the decline of childhood diseases, and lower infant mortality rate. Strides in education, politics, economics, also aided the population of researchers, physicians, nurses, and public-health workers who incessantly seize opportunities to push diseases back, and as result prolonging life.

Hans Rosling in his wonderful presentation last year at Ted Talks on the Gapminder Software (the beta is available freely at Google) showed that the longevity trend is global and not exclusive to developed countries.

Video: The Myth of the Third World (20 mins.):

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  1. mommyness (26 April, 2007 14:10)

    damn! if everyone would live forever, people will have to build houses on water or maybe underwater.

    can they make the earth immortal instead? so that even if we're gone, we're assured that our children and our children's children will have a good life.

    great post you've got here!

    Michael (26 April, 2007 14:34)

    the population problem can be averted using family planning.

    the truth is, in some parts of the world today, like europe, japan, singapore, etc. there is a very low birth rate.

    this is why filipinos everywhere are in-demand - high birthrate in our country, while dwindling population elsewhere.

    angel.dust (26 April, 2007 14:49)

    but think about it, with a new super-earth found, this immortality option can really prosper in the nearest future.

    deejay (26 April, 2007 20:07)

    family planning. that is what filipinos can't master. That's why we have a high birth rate. great post. very informative.

    lateralus (10 May, 2007 16:26)

    Life obviously didn't evolve in the interest of longevity. Natural selection was only concerned with getting the fit individuals viable by the reproductive age. The blue print for cellular death (apoptosis) is in every nuclei of every cell in our body.

    Lily (27 September, 2010 22:48)


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