Dear Dr. Fringe, will humans ever become immortal?
Unless humanity escapes the death of the universe itself, immortality will likely never be achieved. That being said, advances in the field of medicine certainly do hold promise in elongating the average human lifespan beyond what many would deem natural. After all, over the past century, the average lifespan of an American, for example, has risen from 47 to 76, and although that number has decreased slightly in recent years, it is likely to rise again as medical advancements continue to proliferate.
Some researchers even believe that humans could live as long as 150 years, if stressors such as disease, cancer, or other unfortunate circumstances were to be completely avoided throughout one’s life. In a recent study published in Nature Communications, researcher Timothy Pyrkov and his colleagues obtained data from subjects that lived in the US, Russia, and the UK to analyze the relationship between blood cell counts, steps taken, and age, as a proxy for health decline over time. After they determined a predictable rate of degradation, they estimated that with all stressors (disease, cancer etc.) aside, the average human lifespan should be anywhere from 120 to 150 years.
Perhaps Elizabeth Báthory of Hungary was on to something when she attempted to retain her youth by bathing in the blood of young women. The secret, it would seem, lies in blood.
In the early 2000’s, a particularly disturbing experiment (known as parabiosis) was conducted whereby two mice–one old and one young– had their circulatory systems surgically connected to one another to assess the effects that the blood of the younger mouse had on the body of the older mouse. After a month, rejuvenation was seen in not only the liver, but the muscle fibers of the older mouse.
A decade later, similar experiments were performed which found that the de-aging effects of young blood further extended to the brain. The older mice involved showed improvements to cognitive ability, while also growing new neurons.
Though blood transfusions may show promise in rejuvenation, others believe that humanity will extend their lifespans through the use of technology.
Nanotechnology (the manipulation of individual atoms and molecules) for example, could be used to deliver necessary drug therapies with a precision that could not be achieved with conventional medical equipment, or to repair cellular damage on a molecular level. This may sound like science fiction, but research into the medical applications of nanotechnology is already well underway at the University of Melbourne, in Australia.
Biomechanical enhancements are another technology that could likely extend life. If one were to replace parts of the brain that are failing due to cognitive decline with neural-chip implants, one could not only extend their lifespan, they may even be able to enhance it. Elon Musk’s Neuralink company is currently working on this very technology, having already implanted a chip into the brain of a monkey, allowing it to exchange information with a computer, and even control it.
However humanity chooses to extend their lifespan, hopefully the methods by which we do so retain what it means to be human. In the end, if we are more machine than man, the experience of extended life could be worse than simply dying.