When we think of the length of time any of us will be on the planet, generally it’s in the context of the current abilities of medical science. But imagine if there was a treatment that could be given to a person that allowed them to live much longer. A recent discovery by scientists has allowed them to extend the lives of mice significantly by applying simple gene therapy. But could it work for humans? And what unforeseen consequences may arise? Will we soon begin infecting ourselves with viruses in the hopes of reversing our age?
People the world over have been using a number of techniques to reverse the aging process. From the injection of toxins to paralyze muscles and reduce lines to a strict regimen of healthy foods, a number of techniques have arisen in order to give people a leg up on age and help them move forward without losing their youth. But the newest technique involves a virus that actually enters into the body and rewrites genes, encouraging the growth of a simple cellular structure called telomeres.
The research, led by the Spanish National Cancer Research Center, demonstrated that in the case of mice infected with the gene therapy, age was reduced up to 24% on average. The therapy is being seen as a step forward in a field that may ultimately offer humans a significantly extended lifespan. One of the key differences in these findings is the fact that the virus is able to rewrite genes even after the mouse has been born. In specimens that were older, the virus allowed mouse test subjects an extended life of up to 11%.
Public opinion on rewriting genes is fairly controversial, although it’s unclear how much of this controversy centers around the fact that only future generations will be able to benefit from any breakthroughs made at our current point in time. Others fear scenarios such as those outlined in the 1997 film Gattaca where decisions made before life guide humans like a scientific fatalism.
If an age reversing virus, such as the one being tested on mice were to be developed, however, it could eventually allow humans one of the single most significant leaps forward toward a perfected ageless society. In such a society, while a chronological age may still exist, the actual physical deterioration that comes along with it would go the way of the dodo.
Unfortunately, previous attempts at such a therapy have been limited by several factors including a dangerous increase in tumors developed in previous specimens with altered genes. Additionally, the direct tampering of genetic material has been cause for alarm among philosophers questioning at what point the genes would result in humanity becoming something more (or less or different) than human. At least for the moment these quandaries are still left to the realm of speculation. It’s unknown when viruses such as these would become available to the public or even if we will see human equivalents in our lifetimes.
To what length would any of us go to possess the knowledge that we would never age? Such an immortality would no doubt have lasting social and economic impacts on the world around us. But with the added benefits of an ageless immortality, the benefits may ultimately be decided to outweigh the risks. The spring of eternal youth, after-all has been the subject of centuries of exploration.