Can Aging Be Reversed?

You May Never Grow Old!


Bob Seitz

January 15, 2001

    "Prolongevity" research took a stunning leap forward in April, 2000, when Dr. Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technologies announced that " Cloning Reverses Aging In Cow Cells, Science Authors Say". What's so stunning about this achievement is that it shows that Nature appears to have a way of cleaning up all the age-inflicted damage in an old, old somatic cell, allowing it to generate brand, spanking new infants. This at least suggests the possibility of complete rejuvenation of somatic cells, thereby (partially or wholly) reversing aging!   (See "Aging Breakthrough? Cloning Super-Juvenates Cells,Reflections on Immortality), "On Living Forever... An Interview with Michael West, and "Scientists Show Cloning Can Turn Back Developmental Clock and Faithfully Reproduce X-Inactivation". Whether and when that can be done is certainly an open question, but it would also seem to offer surpassingly significant research opportunities! These announcements may, in retrospect, be the year's most important.
    Of course, we're a long way from even knowing if it's possible to rejuvenate mature somatic cells, much less accomplishing this. Advanced Cell Technologies' Dr. Jose Cibelli accomplished this by embedding the nucleus of a somatic cell in an enucleated egg cell. Dr. Cibelli says that the secret to this rejuvenation process lies in the egg cell.

                                                        Two of the Cloned Calves

    Another promising lead during the year has been the unearthing of the genetic basis for slowing aging through caloric restriction. (See "Gene Discovered That Controls Life Extension Through Caloric Restriction", "Gene Mutation Extends Lifespan In "I'm Not Dead Yet" Fruit-Flies " and "Un. of  Wisc. Researchers Make Serendipitous Discovery of Immortal Skin Culture".
    I believe these discoveries may warrant the longevity-research equivalent of the Manhattan Project. The American Association for Retired Persons (AARP) might be a potential sponsor for such a project.
    The February issue of Worth magazine contains an article entitled, "The Very Radical Business of Long Life and Eternal Youth", by Gwen Kincaid that gives an overview of some of the latest developments in aging research.
    Humankind is the only animal that is born knowing that it's going to die. Changing this awareness from the fey to the open-ended would seem to be a stunning shift in perspective for us all. It would bring problems as well as potentialities. There would have to be some sort of birth control, with a lifetime limitation of one child per person, perhaps as a prerequisite for youth extension. Changes in retirement plans would become de rigueur. Greater emphasis upon safety and accident avoidance might surface. Today, tyrants die of old age, but in an ageless future, that might not happen.
    It's been observed that fatal illnesses such as cancer would still terminate our lives. However, it's worth noting that, even without improved treatments, infants are born with a low probability of developing these fatal illnesses until later in life.
    John Campbell, the editor of "Analog Science Fiction and Fact" noted, perhaps 40 years ago,  that someone had probably already been born who wouldn't be condemned to dieof old age. Once a development came along that would retard aging by ten years or so, that would buy enough time for further improvements that would continue to stretch the lifespan. I don't know whether that's true of those born around 1960, but I should expect that most of you who are reading this right now may never have to grow very old.
    For additional discussion concerning this topic, please see Update on "Prolongevity", Reflections on Immortality, and Prolongevity.
 My 60-year affair with gerontological research.