The science of longevity

The scientific community has never been closer to discovering the fountain of youth; we’re approaching the dawn of a spectacular leap in longevity. Life expectancy has tripled in the last 250 years. Will we soon find the holy grail of immortality? It’s one of humanity’s oldest myths. From Gilgamesh to Dorian Gray, revisiting Faust’s pact; from Hercules to Peter Pan and Benjamin Button, the quest for immortality and eternal youth has been an ongoing theme portrayed by literature and film through the years. It wasn’t, however, until the end of the 20th century that medical research became interested in this issue. How might we live better and healthier in spite of the aging process? How might we succeed in slowing down, or even stopping, our biological clocks from ticking?

In biology, cellular senescence is a physiological process that results in slow degradation of the cell functions that cause our organisms to age. Biomedical firms and medical institutes are therefore looking for ways to halt the aging process, or at least slow it down considerably. Science now holds the promise of acting on nanoparticles, repairing DNA, regenerating cells and manufacturing tissues and organs from stem cells. Some researchers dream of increasing our cognitive abilities by interfacing our cells and neurons with computer components… What was once science-fiction has now almost become reality with, for example, regenerative medicine or autologous stem cells being reinjected for the purposes of aesthetic medicine.

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For a long time, examining living things proved incredibly complex. Tissues, organs and cells were extremely delicate to analyse and manipulate. Understanding our biological functions seemed an insurmountable task. But the technological situation has revolutionized medical research. A few years ago, genome sequencing cost 3 billion; it’s now become more affordable, allowing for greater personalization in the healing process. We’re not, indeed, born equal in this respect, and one person’s ideal treatment could be ineffective for somebody else. Personalized genetic mapping is thus one of the pillars of this science of longevity. It doesn’t define our chronological age but, rather, our biological age, acting as a consequence of causes and facilitating preventive medicine.

Life expectancy has tripled in the last 250 years. Will we soon find the holy grail of immortality ?

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Going beyond preventive medicine, probiotics and dietary supplements, what else can be done to slow the march of time? The good news is that there’s a lot we can do! Studies on «real» twins suggest that genes are 25% responsible for a healthy lifespan, with environmental interactions determining the remaining 75%. Other studies demonstrate that genetics account for between 30 and 70% of longevity, according to the individual in question. This proportion varies from person to person, since the relationships between our genes and environment are complex. What’s clear, however, is that changing our lifestyles could not only lengthen our lives but also allow us to enjoy them to the full, with all our energy. We’re talking, of course, about good eating habits and regular physical exercise. As well as fostering our own wellbeing through massage, a walk in the forest or meditation, for example, allowing us to promote the harmony between mind and body that we know influences our health, achieving balance. Without forgetting the latest technologies in medical research. But the most revolutionary leap forward could very well be derived from nature’s incredible feats. Scientists are studying the turritopsis nutricula jellyfish. This tiny creature has a fascinating power: it is, to this day, the only known immortal species, with an endless cycle of regeneration! Perhaps mankind could one day unlock the secrets to its immortality...


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