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Who wants to live forever?

Your grandparents’ lifespan can offer some valuable clues. joeduty/Flickr

It’s well known that humans are living longer than ever before, thanks partially to developments such as sanitation and modern medicine. But will it ever be possible for humans to live forever?

The late Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman seemed to think so, having once said: “There’s nothing in biology yet found that indicates the inevitability of death”. Indeed, some scientists believe sea squirts might hold the key to immortality.

While the the ability to live indefinitely is currently out of our reach, it is certainly possible for individuals to improve the quality and length of their life.

What determines our lifespan?

Your genetic make-up contributes approximately one third of the formula for a long life. Seeing how your grandparents and other family members fared will give you a good idea of how your own life might pan out.

At present there’s nothing you can do about your genes, but you can certainly develop a healthy diet and lifestyle. Avoiding alcohol, cigarettes and drugs are obvious measures, as is the introduction of regular exercise.

There is also plenty of evidence to suggest a diet rich in superfoods such as fruit, most vegetables, fish and olive oil can affect metabolic processes and pathways within your cells in a beneficial manner.

My chemical romance

Research conducted in my lab has shown that the chemical resveratrol – which is present in various fruits – can suppress a protein known as p16INK4a. This protein has been shown to be responsible for ageing in cells.

We also found that resveratrol can suppress Ras genes, which are part of a well-known cancer pathway.

Although taking resveratrol should make you live longer, what it actually does is improve your “healthspan”; that is, the years you will live free of debilitating disease.

So, rather than suffering for decades – let’s say with type two diabetes as you go blind, have your legs amputated and feel miserable – you could live to 85 or 90 and then have a week or two of illness before finally popping your clogs.

Living a longer life

Thankfully, there may be ways we can extend our lifespan, not just our healthspan.

It has been known for six decades that reducing calorie intake by about one third can markedly increase the lifespan of rats (and all other animals tested) by approximately 30%.

Promisingly, similar studies have showed that calorie restriction increases the lifespan of rhesus monkeys as well.

Given that monkeys are primates just like us, I believe it’s reasonable that those of us willing to undertake the ordeal of eating less will be able to live longer.

In a similar vein, a common drug, rapamycin, has been shown to extend the lifespan of middle-aged mice.

The possibility of immortality

There is no doubt that in the future, advances in biotechnology will allow us to live beyond our current lifespans.

This is because scientists are constantly learning more about how the ageing process works at a molecular level, and consequently how we might be able to lengthen our lifespans.

One popular suggestion is that the ageing process is due to the build up of “errors” at a genetic level, and that we might one day be able to reverse ageing by targeting these errors through gene therapy.

Of course, this raises a range of ethical questions and, at the very least, taking advantage of such technology will be extremely expensive.

Governments are unlikely to be willing to foot the bill, meaning, at least initially, that these technologies will only be available to the rich.

So, can we live forever? Sadly, no, but there are certainly things we can do to lengthen and improve the quality of our lives.

And while we’re busy staying healthy, the science will only continue to improve, allowing us to extend our lives even further.

Would you pay to extend your lifespan if you could? What would you consider to be good value, assuming the technology were available? Leave your comments below.

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