Drugs that can slow the ageing process are likely to be available this decade, raising the prospect of people living to 150 or longer.
‘Wonder’ pills that help the body repair itself are in the early stages of development and will help us live well into our second century – while stem cell therapies will boost our quality of life.
Professor Peter Smith, Dean of Medicine at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, said a girl born today in Australia could already expect to live to 100.
And rather than suffering a long drawn out decline, he claimed we could live a healthy and active life until just before we die.
Prof Smith told the annual Medicine Dean’s Lecture, on the possibility of happy and healthy ageing, that there will be a dramatic leap forward in life expectancy.
He said: ‘I think there is real hope we can extend human life by some decades further.
‘But the aim is not just to eke out extra existence but to facilitate a longer healthy life.
‘We just don’t want to live longer, we want to live longer well. And these drugs will help with regeneration processes in the body so people will live well, much longer.’
Harvard geneticist Professor David Sinclair told the Dean’s lecture: ‘We are seeing the beginning of technology that could one day allow us to reach 150.’
Prof Sinclair is researching resveratrol – an anti-ageing compound in red wine.
A new compound is being trialled which is 1000 times more powerful than resveratrol – and is showing signs of being effective.
He said: ‘Our bodies have an extraordinary ability to repair themselves and resveratrol is seemingly able to tap into those healing mechanisms.’
He said that plant-derived compounds like resveratrol had activated enzymes in mice that trigger the DNA repair process.
‘Those enzymes exist in human bodies too, so the possibility of drugs that slow the ageing process is very likely within our lifetime,’ he said.
Oxford University neuroscientist Baroness Susan Greenfield told the Sydney lecture that people would be able to start second careers when they reach 65.
An older workforce would focus on knowledge-based jobs rather than physical ones, she suggested.
However, Baroness Greenfield, who leads a multi-disciplinary team at Oxford investigating neurodegenerative conditions, added that we had to tackle dementia.
She said: ‘We are in an era of unprecedented life expectancy, and science research needs to ensure we live happy and healthy lives, otherwise the social and economic implications could potentially be catastrophic.’
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