With his long red and gray beard, pale skin and clear blue eyes, Aubrey de Grey, 48, looks like a Harry Potter character, a saint or a visionary. His vision is indeed rare: de Grey sees a time when we’ll live in peak health for a thousand years or more. If his calculations are correct, the first marathon-running 150-year old hottie may be…your big-eyed toddler.
One hundred and fifty could be the “new 40” or 25, and perhaps you could even look as good as you feel.
Predictions like these are a staple of science fiction, and when de Grey first offered his ideas several years ago, prominent scientists publically dismissed them as “pseudo-science.” But there was a difference this time around: When a top journal offered a $20,000 reward to any molecular biologist who showed that de Grey’s analysis was “unworthy of learned debate,” no one won.
The author of “Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime,” de Grey stresses that he’s interested in health, not mere survival. The goal is new preventive medicine. About 19 percent of people who reach the age of a hundred today are “escapers,” as scientists put it—they haven’t developed the major illnesses of aging. The rest are enduring with a chronic condition: about half suffer from dementia and arthritis and nearly three-quarters have heart trouble. That’s exactly what de Grey doesn’t want to see. The very old are much happier when they’re healthy or when they perceive themselves to be healthy, according to some research, not to mention common sense. I didn’t envy the centenarian who said to me on the telephone recently, “I’m tired. I can’t do the things I used to do . I’ve lived too long.”
She can look to her genes for those extra years. Compared to their peers at earlier dates, the old-old didn’t eat less or exercise more, according to a large study reported this year by the Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University. In one sign of genes-based longevity, many centenarians have children in their late 40s, says Jay Olshansky, co-author of “The Quest for Immortality: Science at the Frontiers of Aging.” Such extended fertility may allow sex hormones to provide greater anti-aging benefits. Sakhan Dosova, who died in 2009 soon after her 130th birthday, had claimed she gave birth at 54. (130? Believers point to a Soviet-era passport and Kazakhstan identity card recording her birthdate as March 27, 1879).
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