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Live to 100? How about 1,000? Why this scientist believes we will one day have lifespans that long


They include João Pedro de Magalhães, a Portuguese microbiologist and professor of molecular biogerontology at the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Inflammation and Ageing, in the UK.

Professor João Pedro Magalhaes is devoting his life to curing death. Photo: University of Birmingham

De Magalhães believes a lifespan of 1,000 years or more will be possible one day. He says we are fast approaching a time in which reprogramming certain cells associated with ageing could become a reality.

Key to this is manipulating genes that are central to the loss of a cell’s power of division and growth – a process known as senescence.

A century ago, de Magalhães’ great-grandfather died of pneumonia. Back then, this infection of the lungs was one of the leading causes of mortality. But when de Magalhães contracted the same disease as a child, a simple dose of penicillin cured him.

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Why can’t we do the same for ageing, he asks, adding that, although we cannot yet cheat death, we may be able to one day.

Growing up in Porto, a coastal city in northwest Portugal known for its scenery and port wine production, de Magalhães was always intrigued and slightly haunted by existential thoughts.

“I suppose I must’ve been quite young – maybe 7 or 8 – when I became aware of not only my own mortality but that everyone inevitably ages and dies,” he says.

Interest – and investment – in longevity biotechnology continues to grow, as de Magalhães notes on his social media pages. Photo: Facebook / jpsenescence

“This was quite scary because I realised my mother would inevitably degenerate and die, and later so would I.

“Everyone I loved would inevitably age and die. I had a great-grandmother who was very frail and sick, and I realised that the same would happen to my parents and to me.”

Unlike most people who “eventually accept their own mortality, make peace with death either through religion or other ways”, he never has.

From an early age, he determined that his life goal was to find a way to overcome ageing and death.

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“Of course, immortality is impossible, but if we could cure ageing it would completely change our world,” he says.

His run-in with pneumonia taught him that there were diseases that not too long ago could not be cured for which there were now medicines.

“So in the same way pneumonia could now be cured, I reasoned that we may be able to develop a cure for ageing one day.”

De Magalhães intentionally uses the word cure: he views ageing as a disease, one in need of a scientific remedy.

De Magalhães is also a passionate proponent of the practice of deep-freezing bodies of the recently deceased, in the hope that science may one day revive them. Photo: Shutterstock

For some scientists, ageing is viewed as a natural process, universal in nature, and as a fundamental part of life (and, rather obviously, death). Others, including de Magalhães, say we need to rethink this.

Just as we are searching for cures for cancer and dementia, we should be doing the same for ageing.

As he points out on his social media pages, interest – and investment – in longevity biotechnology continues to grow. The global market for longevity and anti-senescence therapy was valued at US$25.1 billion in 2020 and is predicted to reach US$44.9 billion by 2030, according to Allied Market Research.

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De Magalhães acknowledges that when it comes to finding an ageing “cure”, it’s likely that we’re never going to have a penicillin-like drug.

Instead, he highlights a compound called rapamycin, also known as sirolimus, that could be a key to quasi-immortality. In lab studies, it has extended the lifespan in animals such as mice by 10 to 15 per cent.
Rapamycin enhances autophagy, a process that removes unnecessary, abnormal and damaged components within cells and prevents cells from stress. It is used to treat some cancer patients – it stops cancerous cells from growing and multiplying.

This is why it holds promise in slowing cell degeneration – a key contributor to ageing, de Magalhães says.

Rapamycin stops cancerous cells from growing and multiplying, and shows plenty of promise in slowing cell degeneration. Photo: Shutterstock
It is currently used to coat coronary stents, prevent organ transplant rejection, and to treat a rare lung disease, called lymphangioleiomyomatosis, and rare soft tissue tumours.

It has nasty side effects, though, including swollen feet, blurred vision, a sore or inflamed mouth, and dizziness.

De Magalhães says ageing is much more complicated than any infectious disease. “In fact, ageing is intrinsic to our biology and to our genetic code, and developing therapies will be much more difficult.”

De Magalhães’ interest in extending life extends even beyond death. As coordinator of the UK Cryonics and Cryopreservation Research Network, he is also a passionate proponent of the practice of deep-freezing bodies of the recently deceased, in the hope that science may one day revive and cure them.

How does someone in search of ultra-longevity attempt to live a healthier life?

De Magalhães doesn’t have a Spartan lifestyle or diet, he says, though regular exercise is key.

“I have always loved football, and I still play regularly, often with university students.”

He also exercises at home on a stationary bike or goes for a jog.

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He doesn’t smoke, rarely drinks alcohol, and doesn’t have too much sugar or fat – though he does enjoy ice cream in the summer.

Why not? Finding a cure for ageing can be exhausting work. In case you’re wondering which ice cream flavour is his favourite, it’s coconut.

Article was originally published from here

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