What would life be like if we lived to 150?
The existence of a fountain of youth that restores the health and youth of anyone bathing in its waters has tantalised humanity for centuries.
Substitute the mythical water for modern-day medicine and we could, in the next decade, see medicines that slow the ageing process and help us live to 150 years old.
Life expectancy in Australia is already on a positive trend. At the beginning of the 20th Century, life expectancy at birth was about 55 years for males and 59 years for females.
A girl born today in Australia could reasonably expect to live to 100 due to advances in medicine, lifestyle and public health initiatives.
To further these advancements, plant-derived compounds such as resveratrol have been shown to activate enzymes in mice that trigger their bodies DNA repair process.
Those enzymes exist in human bodies too, so the possibility of drugs that slow the ageing process is possible. Synthetic molecules 1000 times more potent than resveratrol are in clinical trials for diseases of aging, and are showing early signs of efficacy.
Biotechnology is another popular area of research. Gene testing is already helping us identify rare genetic disorders like cystic fibrosis and Huntington’s disease. In the future, gene tests may become readily available to understand our health and life expectancy without medical intervention.
Gene therapy may then be used for treating, or even curing, genetic and acquired diseases like cancer and AIDS by using normal genes to supplement or replace defective genes or to bolster a normal function such as immunity. If the science is available then people will use it.
Living to ages unattainable today will be possible in the near future, whether it’s via medicines, biotechnology or even stem cell therapy. However, we must also consider the social and economic implications for extended life.
People aren’t going to want to retire at 65 and spend many decades sitting at home. Indeed, a life expectancy of 150 would make retirement at 65 rare, with many people likely to choose a second career that is more knowledge based.
A bloated working population may increase unemployment figures, especially in lower socio-economic groups. While the young might have an extended adolescence up to 30 years old before moving out of the family home (some would argue this is already occurring). But this assumes that extended life also means healthy life.
One of the challenges in ageing populations is Dementia, such as Alzheimer’s, that is seemingly unavoidable in the elderly. Rates of Dementia in Australia are already expected to increase threefold by 2050 to one million Australians that will have a major impact on Government health expenditure.
Science research needs to ensure we live happy and healthy lives; otherwise the social and economic implications could potentially be catastrophic.
The immediate aim is to find medicines to treat elderly sick people, then later attempt to delay the onset of diseases of ageing. At the University of New South Wales, we have expanded our research infrastructure with the Lowy Cancer Research Centre and the Wallace Wurth Building that will one day help people live happy and healthy lives up to 150.
The aim is not just to eke out extra existence, but to facilitate a longer healthy life.
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