Today, if you asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I would say, “200”. And I have already achieved 25% of my goal. What about you? How many happy and healthy years would you like to live on our beautiful planet? And how positive are you about reaching your goal?
One day living to 100, 150, and even 200 years might be within our reach. After all, Stanford University Professor Stuart Kim thinks that ‘there are those alive today who will live to be 200 years old’. Could it be you? Let’s bust some myths, get our longevity mindset on, and take a look at what real radical longevity might look like!
Myth #1: Human bodies can outlive 150 years
For the time being, due to wear and tear, the human body doesn’t typically last much beyond 100 years. Even the oldest person in history, a French woman called Jeanne Calment, lived to be ‘just’ 122 years old. This ‘sound barrier’ has been unbroken ever since her passing in 1997. Moreover, a recent study suggests that the limit of how long human bodies can survive, in their current state, is up to 150 years – and even then, only if they are free from any kind of stress (easier said than done!)
With that in mind, why am I so optimistic about the possibility of living longer than ever? While it is true that there may be a limit to how long human bodies can live, revolutionary approaches in medicine are emerging that will push boundaries of what was previously thought possible and offer solutions to renew and replace organs that are aging, failing, or diseased.
For example, 3D bioprinting will allow patients to replace failed or poorly functioning body parts and benefit from a novel way of restoring lost tissue and its function. United Therapeutics is already helping to solve the acute issue of a national shortage of transplantable lungs, as well as bioprinting organs such as the heart, liver, and kidneys. Other companies, such as Longevity Vision Fund portfolio company LyGenesis is helping patients regrow tissue in their own lymph nodes – with phase 2a clinical trials happening this year on patients with End-Stage Liver Disease. Finally, the biotech company Celularity is able to produce allogeneic cells and tissues derived from the postpartum placenta. With almost one person dying each hour (in the U.S. alone) while waiting for a transplant, organ regeneration is technology will be significant in saving and extending lives.
The verdict: while human bodies, in their current state, may not be able to last much longer than 120 years, augmented bodies may be able to live to 150 and beyond. This is due to breakthroughs in organ regeneration being able to replace failing or diseased body parts, as well as solve the issue of shortage of organ transplant supply.
Myth #2: The current state of medicine can support radically longer lifespans
While medicine has been evolving rapidly over the last 100 years, it may be time for a paradigm shift. For example, a cutting-edge procedure such as angioplasty (endovascular surgery) can certainly save the lives of heart-attack patients. But for chronic coronary disease patients, who form a large share of angioplasty patients, life expectancy has not been shown to be extended even by a day, let alone 5-10 years!
On the other hand, strategies proven to guarantee better outcomes for many chronic diseases include early diagnostics and preventive measures such as pursuing a healthy lifestyle. This is why it is so important that medicine transforms from its current one-size-fits-all approach into highly personalized healthcare, focusing on early diagnostics and treatment, and assisted by breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI).
Early diagnostics can finally help us win the war against cancer. By focusing on early detection, recovery rates for some types of cancer can exceed 90+%. One example is Freenome, whose technology already allows early and less invasive diagnostics of certain types of cancer via routine blood tests, helping to avoid biopsies where they are not required. AI is also supporting early diagnostics, as well as other unprecedented breakthroughs, such as making drugs more affordable and accessible. For example, Insilico Medicine used AI to find six promising treatments for fibrosis in just 21 days, while big pharma can take several months to develop a new drug without this technology. And finally, wearables will (and already are) assisting with personalized real-time health monitoring and emergency assistance that can save lives, such as Apple Watch’s ambulance call on detection of a hard fall, which might be indicative of the owner having had a heart attack.
The verdict: the current state of medicine has a limit as to how much it can extend our lives. However, a paradigm shift to personalized medicine focused on prevention and early diagnostics can support radically longer and healthier lifespans.
Myth #3: 150-year lifespans will lead to food scarcity due to overpopulation
This may be the easiest myth to dispel because current food production and availability have plenty of room for improvement. Today, they contribute to approximately 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions and occupy 40% of global land, with a shocking 30-40% of food going to waste in the US. Optimizing our current practices could not only feed the 35 million Americans who are experiencing hunger, but allow fair and ample access to nutrition for everyone enjoying much longer lifespans than today.
So, how would we get there? Firstly, we need to transform the food industry and optimize our production practices. Usage of agricultural space can be radically changed through practices such as vertical farming and growing produce in commercial greenhouses on urban rooftops – just like the several hundred farms across the world have done since they first appeared in 2010. Vertical farms occupy less land, contribute to forest restoration, and require fewer resources. Lufa Farms – based in Montreal, Canada but expanding to the U.S. – is an excellent example. They are reinventing farming by not using any new land, capturing rainwater, reducing energy use, and using biocontrols instead of synthetic pesticides, as well as delivering produce to clients the same day it’s harvested! Can this be sustainable? Yes! Lufa Farms say they “would only need to convert the rooftops of 19 average-sized shopping centers to grow enough veggies for all of Montreal”. Imagine if every city could take care of its own food requirements?
Ramping up grown produce would also allow healthier plant-based meat alternatives such as Beyond Meat to replace conventional meat. It has been shown that plant-based meat is less inflammatory and more sustainable for the planet. Moreover, curbing our appetite for animal foods can help fight the climate crisis: meat and dairy account for nearly 15% of global greenhouse gas.
The verdict: optimization of food production practices and switching to a plant-based diet can help not only our own health – but also the health of our planet. Emphasizing new practices such as vertical farming and local production can help ensure people get ample nutrition even with increased lifespans, while plant-based meat and even 3D-printed food can help provide highly nutritious food for each individual.
Did you enjoy this article? Are you encouraged that the future of longevity is looking bright and exciting? If so, I invite you to discover more exciting breakthroughs in the world of longevity in my book ‘The Science and Technology of Growing Young’ or by signing up to my mailing list on sergeyyoung.com.