04 December 2010

Is there a maximum human lifespan?

Stephen Coles
"Death is an imposition on the human race and can no longer be tolerated" - Alan Harrington

With Harrington's quote, Stephen Coles opened his talk on whether or not there is a maximum limit to human lifespan at H+ @ Caltech in Los Angeles.

As a biogerontologist, Coles studies old people, as well as old yeast, microscopic worms, flies and primates. Each of these species have lifespan limits, and, indeed, he answers, there is a maximum number of years that humans live.

However, he adds, the more we understand aging, and the diseases that kill us, it is possible to extend life's max limit.

"All bets are off if we can do something about it," Coles said.

Although, he explains that the entire process of aging is so complex that it is sort of like the blind men touching the elephant because, if your blind, it has a different shape depending on where you're touching.

Putting together the pieces that make up aging is the AMMG, which has met several times in the last couple of decades and has an accumulated "a whole lot of data."

Coles remains optimistic that Calment Limit of 120 will be surpassed, as he shows us data on the increase in the number of centenarians and supercentenarians in the world.

In addition, the average life expectancy has increased over these years. 

Average life expectancies historically:

100 KYA 18
5 KYA (Ancient Egypt) 25
1400 AD (middle ages) 30
... Anyone else know the rest?

Most of us now die in our 70s from cardiovascular disease and cancer.

There's seriously a revolution going on in the understanding of aging, partly because of Stephen Coles's research in supercentenarians, including analysis of there genomes, etc. He's also worked with autopsies of centenarians.

Coles also showed data on autopsies of supercentenarians that revealed that most of them succumb to TTR (transthyretin amyloidosis).

He argues that if real life extension is to come in the future because of new technologies, then "we need a bridge plan."

These bridges are outlined here . 

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