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Can We Live to Age 150?

Updated on December 31, 2018
Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty has advanced degrees in preventive medicine and health psychology, with 35 years of work in allergy and other autoimmune treatment.

 Old People in Naples, Italy
Old People in Naples, Italy | Source

How Old Do You Want to Be?

I recently read the simulation of a diary based on interviews with descendants of a Great Plains indigenous woman living after the American Civil War.

This lady moved from campsite to campsite with her family, carrying teepees and supplies on horseback through all seasons. It was hard work.

After several years of living on the trail through the plains and the Rocky Mountains in order to follow game animals and other resources, gardening when she could, making animal skin clothing for trade, drying meats in between moves, and raising several children, she stated that she felt too old to move further. She finally wanted a permanent home.

She was only 35 years old.

To live much beyond 100 years, human DNA may need changes, just as it will probably need to survive long term in outer space. On average, human cells can replicate until the body reaches 113 years of age. This is when the telomeres of the cells can no longer become shorter.

A telomere: Crystal structure of parallel quadruplexes from human telomeric DNA.
A telomere: Crystal structure of parallel quadruplexes from human telomeric DNA. | Source

Aging In Humans

In the 1990s, we were taught in medical classes that the human cell can divide to reproduce itself until it reaches that age of 113 years on average.

Telomeres (see photo above) inside cells at the tip of chromatids that protect the ends of chromosomes shorten at each division and at age 113, most cannot survive another reproduction of themselves. Another cell division cuts off genes that the body needs.

Sir Arthur C. Clarke predicted immortality for humankind on the physical level in the future. Biology does not cooperate with that prediction, so far. However, researchers are seeking to extend the lifespan of people to at least 150 years and one obstacle they face is how to persuade cell division after age 113 without death or the production of cancer associated with the forced life span expansion of cells.

How old would you like to be?

One professor's answer was that it is best to live fully healthy for as many years as possible and then die instantly.

Mr. Spock, ST:TOS. The fictional Vulcan has a life span of 200 years. Leonard Nimoy lived to age 82.
Mr. Spock, ST:TOS. The fictional Vulcan has a life span of 200 years. Leonard Nimoy lived to age 82. | Source

Replacing Organs Is Becoming Easier

Alzheimer's Disease and Dog Brains

One fact about Alzheimer's is that if a human brain lives long enough, given the status of current medicine, that brain will develop Alzheimer's Disease.

New drug treatments can help, music can help - as in the case of Glen Campbell - exercise can stave it off, solving puzzles is beneficial, and using a personal computer will extend healthy brain function as well as help brain trauma to heal over time, but Alzheimer's is inevitable, given a long enough lifespan.

Brain transplants are not yet a possibility and many people cringe at such an idea -- If we insert another brain into a body, who will that body be? Can we transplant sections of brain or use some of our own brain cells to grow a new brain (that will work)? -- We do not know that answer. Can we trap a human spirit in a computer program or positronic network? -- So far, this is doubtful.

All this guesswork did not prevent the Soviets from experimenting with transplanting dog brain tissue into human brains in the 1940s. I was fortunate enough to hear about this work from people who had witnessed some of these procedures and then immigrated to the USA to become teachers. Until today, the dog-human brain combination has not been successful.

In order to successfully live to age 150, we must push Alzheimer's further into the end of the human lifespan.

Man Receives New Skull in 2015

Replacement Organs

Lab grown replacement organs are a reality in the mid-2010s, although these miracles are not yet widely used. One of the earliest cases involved a man about 75 years old that had lost his esophagus to cancer.

An organic framework like biological chicken wire was surgically implanted in place of the missing esophagus and powdered pig bladder/intestine was poured onto it. In a short time, his body had grown a new esophagus internally, despite his advancing age.

Our own stem cells can also be used to grow new organs for our bodies, yet that process is not approved for wide use either. People are asking how long this will take.

The 3D Printer may be the most ingenious development of the 21st century. Not only can new organs be printed, but a man in early 2014 received a successfully applied new face that was printed on one of these machine. Another man received a new skull in the same way. A boy received a new hand in the same way in 2013.

The Boy With the Printed Hand

Treatments With New Blood

Refreshing New Blood

Many of us have heard tales of vampires and the rejuvenation they receive from ingesting blood. Only small vampire bats in South America actually drink blood to my knowledge, and it is the blood of cattle. However, scientists are finding that younger blood can refresh older human brains.

The Stanford School of Medicine Published research in May 2014 that shows good results from infusing older mice with the blood of younger mice. The older brains were revived and worked better. If this could be true in humans, then Alzheimer's and other dementias could be quashed. Our problem is in finding donors and in determining how much blood need be infused into senior citizens to trigger a refreshing of the brain.

Seniors might make a run on the blood banks, so to speak. How much would the procedure and the blood cost? Would the process be covered by health insurance? We have many questions to answer and blood therapy and the mere sound of if is creepy to some people.

If we could develop artificial blood that is workable, or use our own blood stem cells to make new blood, then the problems mentioned above might be avoided; and actually, only plasma was used in the mice studies, rather than whole blood.

The Stanford blood-brain research was active as far back as 2011. Researchers found that younger blood made new brain cells grow in older mice and vice versa. The newer studies found that younger blood caused older mice to produce brain chemicals associated with learning and to have a hippocampus area that worked better.

That is the part of the brain related to memory formation and to navigation (like a GPS) -- for instance, the famous Black Cab drivers of London UK learn so much information long-term that their hippocampi are significantly larger than that of the average population that does not drive a Black Cab.


Mouse Studies About Human Health and Aging

Healthier Young Blood

Younger blood changes older brains in mice on the molecular level. It also creates positive changes in

  1. neuroanatomical (structure and number of neurons, which are brain cells) and
  2. neurophysiological (ways brain cells and other brain structures work) aspects of the mouse brain.

Would we gain that result in a human case? Scientists hope so.


What is Infusion?

For the Stanford blood-brain studies, young mice were paired with old mice by surgically hooking together their circulatory systems for an extended period of time.

Another group contained "old mouse"/"old mouse" pairs hooked together similarly. We cannot hook people together in that manner.

If the system work sin humans, than plasma transfusions may be the method of choice. One alternative concerns certain proteins in younger blood that me be responsible for the positive changes in older mice. If these prove so useful and can be isolated and grown in the laboratory, then they might be injected instead of the more bulky plasma. The future results of these studies will be fascinating - and probably build the aged-care medical business further.

New blood vessels needed.
New blood vessels needed. | Source

New Human Blood Vessels

New Blood Vessels Required on Earth and in Space

New blood vessels are required for new organs to function correctly and Jennifer Lewis is one of the people who has designed a method of printing them on a 3D Printer. What will likely be called the Lewis Method came from work completed at Harvard University by Lewis, a materials scientist.

I feel certain that 3D Printers will be required equipment on future space missions, because of the impossibility of making it back to Earth in time to treat certain injuries and conditions. In addition, the printers can print equipment, food, and a vast array of other products They are better than the Star Trek® Replicator. (Reference: Retrieved May 5, 2014.)

Christopher Chen of the University of Pennsylvania and Jordan Miller at Rice University printed up a blood vessel network scaffolding of hard sugars and glycerol, much like the extracellular matrix first used in the esophagus case mentioned at the start of this Hub. After the scaffolding was in place, cells were placed upon it, they grew into the blood vessel network and the scaffolding was flushed away. (Reference: Jordan S. Miller, "Rapid casting of patterned vascular networks for perfusable engineered 3D tissues"; Nature Materials. September 2012; 11(9): 768 - 774.)

Now, using 3D printers, we can print blood vessels to go along with new organs.

If science can find the answer to prolonging human life past the usual number of years telomeres can be useful, then organs, blood, and the brain are essential components that may need refurbishing in the long run.

© 2014 Patty Inglish MS


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