The study of aging, referred to as gerontology, is a fascinating field and it appears that there is a growing interest in the subject. Frankly, I am not surprised, perhaps Apple co-founder Steve Jobs phrased it best during his 2005 Stanford commencement speech when he said, "No one wants to die, even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there, and yet, death is the destination we all share, no one has ever escaped it."
Regardless of whether you agree with the first portion of his statement, it is hard to argue the fact that no one has ever escaped death. Will this hold true in the future however? Views among experts who discussed their insights into aging on TED somewhat differ.
Aubrey de Grey, perhaps the most optimistic of the 3 lecturers on the topic, believes that aging is a disease that can be overcome, and we simply have yet to find a cure. On the other hand, there is Dan Buettner who stated in his lecture that the human body has on average ~90 years to live and that social, dietary and physical activity adjustments can help us all get there and beyond.
Then there is Cynthia Kenyon who discussed recent research that demonstrated significantly prolonged life ( ~2 times normal) in the worm C. elegans by genetic manipulation through mutation in a gene called daf-2; later also found to prolong the life of flies and mice. She then proceeds to discuss research on a population of Ashkenazi Jews and notes that those around the ages of 90-100 had been found to have genetic mutations in daf-2 as well. Her TED talk hints at the possibility of a future which incorporates medicine and genetic engineering to facilitate longevity.
While focused on somewhat different aspects of aging, all 3 experts had one common message: there is potential for all of us to live considerably longer. Indeed, they also make note that these "extra" years are free of chronic disease. Research seems to be progressing quite rapidly and it appears that the future will inevitably offer pharmaceutical and/or genetic engineering means by which we can foster longer lifespans. As time passes and we continue to find ways of prolonging life, it is worth posing the question if we will ever manage to outpace the rate at which we age. Aubrey de Grey believe this is a question of when rather than if, and he makes a compelling argument.
- TED: Dan Buettner
- TED: Aubrey de Grey
- TED: Cynthia Kenyon