Would you like to live forever?
I once asked a 98 year-old woman in the pharmacy if she would make it to 100 and she said she hoped not. I was stunned. But a new generation of treatments none of us thought were possible could be around the corner, writes Peter Kelly...
Is immortality a realistic possibility? Eric Cantona seems to think so. He recently bemused and entertained the football world with a bizarre speech.
He concluded: “Soon the science will not only be able to slow down the ageing of the cells, soon the science will fix the cells to the state and so we will become eternal. Only accidents, crimes, wars, will still kill us but unfortunately, crimes, wars, will multiply. I love football. Thank you.”
Judging by the coverage his speech got in the media and on social media, I think most football fans did not have a clue what he was talking about but in Silicon Valley, they knew exactly what he was talking about.
Silicon Valley has been quietly funding research into everlasting life for years now and some believe they are making genuine progress.
I first came across the modern fascination and pursuit of immortality in the book, Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. In the book he mentions the Gilgamesh Project. The Gilgamesh Project is largely funded by Silicon Valley billionaries and its goal is to give humankind eternal life.
The attitude to death in Silicon Valley is that death is a technical problem and every technical problem has a technical solution. When I first started reading about this, I thought it was utter madness.
I thought it was the stuff of childish fantasy and maybe it still is. When I read that Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Peter Thiel of Paypal, Sergey Brin and Larry Page of Google were pumping millions into secretive health ventures to solve death, I actually became a little angry.
From my perspective, here were people who symbolised the elite who had lost any belief in paying fair taxes, creating a sense of economic injustice, which I believe has led to major instability in politics and a resurgence in openly racist narratives in our politics.
And what were they doing with all the money they were hoarding? Trying to become immortal like some comic book hero?
Over the years though, my intrigue and curiosity has overcome my anger and my selfish impulses have moved from ‘maybe this is not such a bad thing’ to ‘maybe this could be a good thing’ to ‘maybe this could be a great thing.’
Would you forgive Amazon for paying pathetic amounts of tax if it leads to you gaining an extra 50 years of youthful life? I think I would. And I never thought I would think that.
Would you like to live forever? I would. I am always surprised that when I ask people that question, most are hesitant. I once asked a 98 year-old woman in the pharmacy if she would make it to 100 and she said she hoped not! I was stunned.
Personally I don’t think immortality is in the realms of the possible but I do think its pursuit will revolutionise medicine and I do think we will get to a point where we can increase our lifespan.
A recent Guardian article on the science of senolytics claimed that in the last century, life expectancy in England and Wales has risen by 25 years. How many years will it rise by in the next 100 years?
So what is the science of senolytics? It is the study of the ageing process and, in particular, senescent cells. These are sometimes known as 'zombie' cells.
They start off as normal cells but then they encounter a stress such as DNA damage or a virus and then instead of dying, they persist in a zombie-like state and become toxic to the cells around them and this plays a major role in the ageing process.
Thus if we can find a way of reducing or eliminating senescent cells, we in theory could reduce or reverse the ageing process.
A team of scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota have shown that targeting the reduction of senescent cells in mice can significantly improve health and lifespan and they now hope it can work for humans too.
The science of senolytics could lead to a flood of treatments for various cancers, chronic pain and inflammation. It is a very exciting area of research and may lead, not only to longer life, but a better quality of life.
In Silicon Valley, many funders of this research have become obsessed with looking after their current health as they want to live long enough to live forever.
I find the idea of trying to convince patients in my pharmacy to look after their health so they can live longer and maybe make it in time for the ‘live forever revolution’ that is coming very amusing.
We are always talking about big changes on the horizon in pharmacy but maybe the biggest change will be a new generation of treatments none of us ever imagined possible.
Peter Kelly is a community pharmacist based in London and occasional stand-up comedian.