No radical life extension, says Nature paper, but Russian gets stem cell infusion to go for it

Any takers on the idea that we can get radical life extension through new technologies like stem cells, organ replacement, cybernetics, or genetic modification? Or just through healthier living in general?

A new Nature paper says there’s a natural limit on human lifespan around age 115 and getting past that is just not going to happen.


Jeanne Calment, who lived to be 122. Photo NY TImes/Getty

They don’t discuss (that I saw on a brief look) how new technologies could break this “rule”. Carl Zimmer has a nice NYT article on this development and on human aging more generally.

It also discusses the curious case of Jeanne Calment (pictured above) who lived to be 122, which the authors of the Nature paper would say was an extreme fluke.

It’s ironic that on the same day I saw all of this about limitations, I also noticed an article (via Google alert on stem cells) in the Russian newspaper Pravda about a scientist there who will get an infusion of stem cells to try to defy aging.

I guess this physicist Andrei Karnaukhov believes in life extension through stem cells. Supposedly this has been a success in rodents, Pravda tells us, and now the guy is going to self-experiment on himself. Pravda also write these dubious claims, “The effect from the surgery will last for several decades. According to the researchers, chances for the scientist’s body to recover after the second surgery are 95 percent.”

Recovery (as in make it out alive) or have a successful anti-aging result?

This reminds me of some of the claims from stem cell clinics for treatments of almost anything that ails you here in the U.S. Some American clinics do also claim anti-aging outcomes if you can pay the steep price for the “treatment”.

Okay, so do we go with that Nature paper’s conservative view or the Russian dude’s optimism? Somewhere in between seems safe. If 115 is the “natural” limit, then I don’t see any reason why new technologies can’t bust that ceiling somewhat at least. The key issue is actually quality of life.

9 thoughts on “No radical life extension, says Nature paper, but Russian gets stem cell infusion to go for it

  1. As I like to say, somewhere in the Middle works…

    While there is no conclusive proof that our longevity has a limit, given the unknown impact of advancing medical technology on our health and cell based body, the evidence would suggest that the past threshold of corporal existence has indeed been tested through statistical evidence.

    What is interesting here isn’t so much the analytical viewpoint of the data to-date but the clinical narrative on the impact molecular technology will have on that yet to be tested rule of thumb baseline assumption.

    Science ran an article recently on the topic of US young blood product trials >

    Also of note here would be the GDF11 topic and many other active investigative programs at many institutions exploring solutions for the degenerative conditions of the aged.


    • Let’s assume that the young blood theory works. So one person gives their young blood so that another’s aging can be slowed. But that would surely be at the expense of the younger persons blood aging sooner than if it had not been harvested? Even if this works, it bothers me.

      Or am I not understanding some biological principle?

      • Assuming it works to some reproducible degree and the elixir composition pinpointed in its youthfulness composition I would assume the variability of blood bank donations would give way to quality controlled pluripotent sourced product supplier.

        The youthful would remain whole while the aged – well, regularly refreshed from the proverbial fountain.


  2. I think on the same lines. Whereas “just” healthy lifestyle will probably hit diminishing returns on maximum lifespan, I think we can expect good things of new technologies, and that it’s worth a shot at the very least.

    I also think that something that affects positively the healthspan will also have a positive impact on the overall lifespan. At least, in my experience, you seldom see elderly sick people afflicted with chronic wasting diseases survive very long, while the truly ancient ones I’ve met (I think the current record in my consult is 98) have consistently enjoyed a reasonably healthy lifestyle through the years.

  3. The Nature paper seems to be an analysis of humans as they are. In the much ballyhooed world of genetic engineering one might imagine humans being engineered to have ages like bowhead whales. I guess that such an animal might still be considered to be human if it turns out to be able to reproduce with regular humans and the progeny are fertile?

    In short, I rule nothing out and nothing in.

    I don’t much like the way all of this is heading, however.

    From an ecological standpoint, reproduction rates must ultimately be inversely related to such increased longevity or life just won’t be worth living… On the other hand, virtual reality might be a convenient way of stacking surplus people into low consumption lives that preserve the delusion of being meaningful.

    Indeed, taking a lesson from what we already know about human evolution, the path towards a longer lived species might be to focus first on extending the duration of childhood… Just a thought.

    • A further point regarding extension of childhood. That might also be necessary for any major improvement in human intelligence, I wager.

      (Disclaimer, I don’t think that intelligence exists. Like free will, intelligence is only an illusion. My reasoning on this matter is rather involved. But if I’m correct, the achievement of artificial intelligence will also be the achievement of intelligence. I don’t think that either will ever happen.)

  4. The limit may lie outside the individual human body.
    Over population and deteriorating environment.

    Even if the longevity extension were possible, will the technology be able to
    erase all the accumulated memories of the old? Without a ‘reset’ of memories,
    there may arise an unintended psychological consequences in adapting to the
    rejuvenated body.

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