WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
New research suggests humans have a maximum biological age, and that living longer will only be possible with the help of technology.
Researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine believe that they have discovered that humans have a maximum lifespan, even though increasingly we are living in an age where new treatments, and healthcare advances look certain to extend how long we can live. Dr. Jan Vijg, professor of Ophthalmology and visual sciences at Einstein, lead the research, which was published in Nature.
By analysing data from the Human Mortality Database, the population information from over forty countries and the age of death data from the International Database on Longevity, the team found that the maximum human lifespan was an average of 115 years, with an absolute limit of 125 years.
“Data strongly suggest that we have already reached the limits of our biology and that this happened in the 1990s,” said Vijg, stipulating that it looks like we have already achieved the best we can through biology alone.
Life expectancy has been on the rise since the 19th century because of improvements in living conditions, healthcare, diet and the environment, and while data analysis showed that late-life mortality has experienced a decline since the 1900s, age-at-death reached a plateau in 1995 – despite rapidly increasing between the 1970s and early 1990s – indicating a lifespan limit.
At the moment the record for the oldest person belongs to Jeanne Clement, a French woman who died at the ripe old age of 122 in 1997, close to the 1995 age-at-death plateau. Vijg and his team concluded that the probability of a person living to 125 years is less than 1 in 10,000.
So that then brings us round to the question of whether or not we should just throw the towel in now and quit our hunt for new technologies that extend our lifespans. But we’re human, and so of course we’re not going to stop.
“Further progress against infectious and chronic diseases may continue boosting average life expectancy, but not maximum lifespan,” says Vijg. In other words healthcare advances will increase the number of us living longer, but not actually how long we can live for – and depending on the circles you walk in that’s contentious.
Today we can already replace over seventy percent of the human body with artificial parts, from pace makers to insulin pumps, and 3D bioprinting has recently come on leaps and bounds, letting us print anything from brains and hearts to bones and kidneys. Both of these factors alone should be enough to help us eke out a few more years, and that’s not paying tribute to the giant strides we made in 2016 with new advances in anti-ageing therapies, gene editing and gene therapy, nanotechnology, regenerative medicine or stem cell treatments.
“While it’s conceivable that therapeutic breakthroughs might extend human longevity beyond the limits we’ve calculated, such advances would need to overwhelm the many genetic variants that appear to collectively determine the human lifespan,” Vijg explains.
If there’s one thing that we’ve learnt over the years is that the data, and logic often dictate one thing but we humans, with our tools and massive melon sized brains love playing the odds, and I for one believe that we’ll win out. After all, as Vijg says, in order to live longer we need to overwhelm genetics – and biology – and there’s plenty of evidence that we’ve already done that, including the creation of the world’s first completely alien, 6 base pair based DNA lifeform. And if that’s not overwhelming biology – bearing in mind we’re still in the relative dark ages of 2017 – then I’m a monkey’s uncle.
We’re just getting started, and I’ll bet on the odds.