In the September issue of Scientific American, Tom Kirkwood came out with an article about human aging named “Why can’t we live forever?” His disposable soma theory says that the body is mortal because its cells are specialized. He believes the Body makes a choice where to allocate resources: to immortality or reproduction. However, right now people have unlimited resources and evolution is faster as it has switched to a large extent to the intellectual level.
It’s not obvious how the disposable soma theory explains the fact that women live longer on average, although reproduction is much more expensive as compared to men in terms of resources. Another remarkable example is the queen of social insects (bees, termites, ants). Despite devoting a huge portion of resources to reproduction of thousands of offspring, the queen can live hundreds of times longer than sterile female workers that serve to her needs.
I fundamentally disagree with the following idea made by the author: “The goal of gerontology research in humans, however, is always improving health at the end of life, rather than achieving Methuselean life spans.”
This is a traditional stance taken by the hawks of the conservative wing of gerontologists: to oppose the quality of life to longevity. This is the biggest mistake in gerontology. The quality of life and longevity are closely related. If the quality of life is high in the biomedical sense, then why would the person suddenly die? Besides, many experiments on model animals show that the interventions leading to life extension also led to improved reproduction and increased activity. Essentially, an improved quality of life for the animal.
The reasoning behind such statements is based on an “acceptance of one’s own death”, which the author is calling for. Since we cannot radically increase longevity right now, then let’s consider it as ‘unnecessary’.
Fighting for longevity automatically means fighting for an increase of the quality period of life. Human life is the absolute value. Therefore a decrease in viability and declined health cannot serve as consent to die. Just because a man is unable to walk, doesn’t mean he should give up on life. Quite the opposite, our goal should be to find a way to restore living functions.
Denial of the radical life extension idea amounts to intellectual cowardice or fear to be perceived as a ‘black sheep’, and ignoring the advances of modern science. Nematode, drosophila and life spans in mice were significantly increased. Yes, human anatomy / biology is way more complex, but no sensible person would claim that life extension is a simple task. Tom Kirkwood says: “Solutions will not come easily, despite the claims made by the merchants of immortality who assert that caloric restriction or dietary supplements, such as Resveratrol, may allow us to live longer.” One shouldn’t confuse supporters of human immortality with the merchants of curative elixirs.
We, the supporters of radical human life extension, are the first to affirm that solving the problem of aging is an extremely complicated task. Implementation of a complex interdisciplinary research program into aging, significantly enlarging the scope of the field and also increasing public awareness about the goals of biogerontology are urgently needed. We believe that development of regenerative medicine and research into genome regulation can generate impressive results within a relatively short period of time – as soon as the next decade. The pace of this important research is to a large extent dependant on the position, the definition of objectives and overall mutual agreement within the global scientific community that:
«The goal of gerontological research on humans is radical human life extension».