The Limits of Human Life Span



1/26/2000: This March, 1999, New York Times article, "Pushing LImits of the Human Lifespan", summarizes the gerontological state of affairs two years ago. At that time, gerontological researchers said,
   "We know we can extend the life span of mammals," said Dr. Judith Campisi, who heads the department of cellular and molecular biology at the Berkeley National Laboratory. "There is no reason to believe that we couldn't do the same today in humans."     
   "It is probably possible," said Dr. Cynthia Kenyon, a professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of California at San Francisco. "The lights are green everywhere you go," she added.
    She cites, for example, the life spans of three small mammals: the mouse, the canary and the bat. Mice live 2 years, canaries live 13, and bats live for 50 years.
    "I don't know why evolution selected for different life spans, but it did," Dr. Kenyon said
    In the workshop sessions and in private discussions scientists explained why they were so impassioned and why they came to believe that genes controlled life spans.
    Even as the scientists spoke of what might lie ahead, some drew back, nervous about public reactions and stung by their experiences when they voiced their opinions.
Dr. Campisi of Berkeley said she recently gave a public lecture on aging on her campus. Afterward, she said, "a number of people came up to me and said, 'How dare you do this research? The earth is already being raped by too many people, there is so much garbage, so much pollution."'
    "I was really quite taken aback," Dr. Campisi said. "It was a small group but they just about nailed me to the wall."
:Left: Dr. Campisi
    Below: Dr. Kenyon

  The principals involved in "Strategies for reversing, not merely retarding, the degenerative effects of aging" (Banner News, Topical, Health, Prolongevity"Banner_News_Topical.html) include Bruce Ames, one of the most highly regarded biologists of the 20th century Dr. Gregory Stock convened the first 'roundtable' on aging at UCLA in 1999, and this article describes plans for the second annual convocation, held at the Oakland Research Institute on Oct. 1, 1999. The title of the topic, "SENS: Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence: Reversing, not merely retarding the degerative effects of aging" sets forth the purpose of this initiative. To me, this sounds like a team to watch.
    I would imagine that it will be years before anything could be sufficiently tested for safety that it could be made available for some medical condition (by prescription). There's going to be every flavor of objection imaginable, because there always is whenever something new or different appears.
    For a follow-up, you might want to try: UCLA Program on Medicine Technology and Society. The group is trying to establish a "Prometheus Prize" of about $250,000 a milestone for each of ten or more milestones that must be surpassed to effect the conquest of aging. It's anticipated that these milestones should be attainable within the next 12 years.