Forget the fountain of youth. Biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey says doctors might soon be able to "cure" aging. Is that really possible? Here, a brief guide to how medical advances could push human life spans farther than most people have ever imagined:
How old does de Grey think people can get?
The scientist says that the first person who will live to be 150 years old has already been born and that somebody born within 20 years could live to be 1,000. "I'd say we have a 50-50 chance of bringing aging under what I'd call a decisive level of medical control within the next 25 years or so," de Grey says, as quoted by Reuters. "And what I mean by 'decisive' is the same sort of medical control that we have over most infectious diseases today."
1,000 years old... really?
Other scientists have called de Grey's work "pseudo science." But the oldest person on record lived to be 122, and life expectancies are rising every year. In 2010, there were 44,000 centenarians in Japan alone. MIT's Technology Review journal offered $20,000 in 2005 to any molecular biologist who could show that de Grey's theory was "so wrong that it was unworthy of learned debate," and nobody won the cash.
What will it take to make people live so long?
Mostly maintenance. Aging, de Grey says, is basically the lifelong accumulation of molecular and cellular damage throughout the body. Using stem cells and other therapies, de Grey says doctors will become able to fix those problems before they can kill you. "The idea is to engage in what you might call preventative geriatrics," he says, "where you go in to periodically repair that molecular and cellular damage." But we're a long way from achieving what de Grey calls "actuarial escape velocity" — the point at which life expectancy rises by a year or more annually. Right now, it's going up just three months a year, so old age is still catching up to us all.
Are others searching for the secret to superlongevity?
Yes. Billionaire David Murdock has set up the $500 million North Carolina Research Campus, a scientific center dedicated to his conviction that eating plants, and lots of them, is the key to top health and maximal life span, according to The New York Times Magazine. Murdock is 87, but he's already thinking about how he'll celebrate his 125th birthday.