So who’s up for being immortal?

This may not quite live up to that sort of expectation, but it would be a profound shift in how we view the human condition if somebody could actually stop or even reverse the aging process. One researcher at Harvard thinks he may have struck upon the answer and claims to have found a way to halt the aging process in mice. (CBS Philadelphia)

Dr. David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School says he’s found a molecule that has proven to reverse aging in mice.

“They drink it and we see that within a week they start to run further,” said Sinclair. “And then we look at their organs and those are rejuvenated as well.”

It’s all about DNA. With young, healthy runners, for example, their DNA has not yet been damaged by the aging process.

Now, I’m not a doctor and I don’t even play one on TV, so most of this is well beyond my depth. But it’s truly exciting and yet still worrying at the same time. The research team was nice enough to translate their explanation largely into layman’s terms and it still sounds incredibly complicated. The short version of the story is that we allegedly have a protein in our systems when we’re young which repairs any damage to our DNA. But as we get older, a new protein shows up which blocks the original one, leading to accumulating damage to the DNA which shows up as all the usual infirmities associated with getting old. David Sinclair believes he’s found a molecule which “gets between” those two proteins, allowing the DNA repair process to resume.

So far he’s only had it working in mice and I’m not sure how excited any of us will be about immortal rodents. But what if he gets it to work in human beings? How long might you live if you never suffered the detrimental effects of aging? Hundreds of years? And perhaps more to the point… would you want to? I suppose one of the first questions to ask would be if this DNA repair would also curb the seemingly inevitable breakdown in brain functions which most people experience as they age. Having a vigorous and healthy body for an extra hundred years while being completely senile or lost in dementia doesn’t sound like much of a bargain. It would also likely bankrupt most families if they had to continue providing extended care to relatives who were unable to take care of themselves for decades on end.

But even if you retained your senses and were healthy and mobile, I find myself wondering how long most of us would really want to go on living. Surely there comes a point where you simply grow tired of existing just to hang on to that spark of life. We’d also be immediately wrestling with the issues which would come from a sudden surge in population as people failed to depart this world while new babies kept arriving. You wouldn’t be retiring at age 60 anymore because our entitlement programs would completely collapse in a single generation.

One more thing to consider is how much such a treatment will wind up costing. If you can give to pretty much everyone, that’s fine. But what if it’s only available to the extremely wealthy? There have been movies made about that scenario and the peasants would grow pretty restless immediately if only the elites were living for centuries while everyone else continued to age and die off.

Plenty to consider here. It’s obviously a spectacular breakthrough in the medical field if this turns out to be viable, but it might also open up a very ugly new can of worms.