Finally, a solution to the impending pensions crisis:
Israeli scientists have boosted the life expectancy of mice by 23 percent, in an advance they hope could eventually be replicated in humans.
They increased the supply of a protein, SIRT6, which normally wanes with aging, in 250 mice. In peer-reviewed research just published in the journal Nature Communications, they have revealed the increased life expectancy — and also stated that the protein-rich mice were more youthful and less susceptible to cancer.
“The change in life expectancy is significant, when you consider that an equivalent jump in human life expectancy would have us living on average until almost 120,” said Prof. Haim Cohen of Bar-Ilan University.
Obviously, these are very early results, based on a sample of just 250 mice. But there are a couple of things that stand out: First, the process they describe seems relatively simple. If aging is accelerated by the decline in just one protein, then artificially increasing the level of that protein should not be especially difficult for modern medicine. It is not hard to imagine, fifteen or twenty years from now, SIRT6 supplements being available over the counter in most pharmacies.
Second, the potential gains in lifespan are very significant: Extending life expectancy to 120 by slowing down the aging process should make somebody of the age of 90 have the physical characteristics of somebody aged about 60 today.
Third: If this happens, it is going to cause political war in the longer term.
Why? Because, well, it would mean that under the current laws of most western countries, we might be forced to pay people an old-age pension for more than half their lives. That would be financially unsustainable. The retirement age would have to progressively rise, and rise dramatically, to something like 95 years of age.
Fourth: A massive change in life expectancy would have all sorts of consequences for human society that are not immediately obvious, and not all those consequences would be a positive. For example: it would result in more competition for housing, and jobs, as well as even higher expenditures on healthcare.
There is also the question of equality. To some extent, your wealth already has an impact on your life expectancy. That is why people in rich countries live longer than people in the third world, and it is also why rich people on average live longer than poor people. A drug which extends human life by forty years? That would immediately become one of the hottest, and likely most expensive, products on earth. We could well end up in a situation where wealthy people can basically buy themselves forty extra years of life. “There are some things money can’t buy”, goes the saying. That might be less true than before, if these scientists are on to something.
Finally: Is this an innovation we really want? A person who lives to 120 may live to meet their great, great grandchildren. They are also much more likely to see one of their own children die, and experience tragedies. There is no guarantee that the extra years will be happy ones. Maybe we should be thankful for what we have, and leave it at that.
Mind you, my view might change when aging starts to hit. Who knows.