by Tom Leonard
02 April 2015

from DailyMail Website

Spanish version



Quest to prolong human life indefinitely

obsesses the rich and powerful.

The head of Google's investment arm

thinks it is possible to live to 500.

America's tech moguls

are spending billions of dollars to defeat ageing.





They're Spending Fortunes on the Research they Hope will make it Possible

The ancients believed in a magical elixir, a potion that would grant what man most desired - eternal life.

Chinese emperors chased the dream by consuming long-lasting precious substances such as jade and gold, often with fatal effects.

Elizabeth Bathory, a 16th-century Transylvanian countess dubbed Lady Dracula, made an even more drastic attempt to conquer death, by bathing in the blood of young girls.

One infamous scientist, meanwhile, would inject himself with a concoction that contained dog semen, testicles and blood. At least he didn't have to drink it, unlike those Jamaicans who followed their country's secret recipe for longevity - tortoise scrotum soup.

Today, the quest to prolong human life indefinitely still obsesses the rich and powerful. Indeed, the head of internet giant Google's multi-billion-dollar investment arm announced that he believes it is possible to live to 500.

'We have tools in the life sciences to achieve anything you have the audacity to envision,' said Bill Maris. 'I just hope to live long enough not to die.'

In his industry, Bill Maris is far from alone in harboring the conviction that galloping advances in science and technology may soon overturn the one thing, apart from taxes, of which we are certain - for now.


Google co-founder Sergey Brin

talks of one day 'curing death'



Led by the phenomenally wealthy Google, whose co-founder Sergey Brin talks of one day 'curing death', America's tech moguls are quietly ploughing billions of dollars into researching how we can defeat the ageing process.

Some are driven by a genuine if questionable desire to help mankind, some by personal loss, and others by the fear of dying.

Money, too, is a motivator. If anyone does find a way of allowing us to live for decades or even centuries longer, they would stand to become exceedingly rich. Nor is the prospect as outlandish as it may seem.

It's easy to laugh at these rich techie types who think they can 'solve' ageing as if it were another computational puzzle.

With software mogul Larry Ellison calling it 'incomprehensible' that people accept death as inevitable, they can seem to be in the grip of a communal mid-life crisis.


British gerontology theorist Aubrey de Grey

believes the first person who

will live to 1,000 has already been born

But the first person who will live to 1,000 has already been born, according to British gerontology theorist Aubrey de Grey. He believes such longevity will be achieved by genetically engineering the cells of our body to avoid the ageing process.

Before you scoff, scientists have already managed to dramatically increase the lifespans of worms, flies and even mice in this way.


Sir Colin Blakemore,

former chief executive of the British Medical Research Council,

insists there is an upper limit to how much the human body can age

We need to stop thinking that ageing is inevitable, says De Grey, and view the body like a vintage car:

maintained properly, it can keep on going indefinitely.

Peter Thiel, the co-founder of the internet payment service PayPal, has given him $3.5 million (2.3 million) towards his work in this field.

Other scientists dismiss all this as lunatic nonsense which hijacks research funds that could be far better used elsewhere.

For example, Sir Colin Blakemore, former chief executive of the British Medical Research Council, insists there is an upper limit to how much the human body can age - and thus how long we can live.

He puts that boundary at 120 years, primarily on the grounds that hardly anyone has ever survived longer.

Yet research centers with some of the world's finest scientists are already working on ever more outlandish ways of extending our lifespan, from genetic engineering, to using microscopic robots to tackle failing cells, to replacing body organs with robotic or cloned versions, to - perhaps most startling of all - plans to 'upload' the human consciousness into machines.

Of course, all of this frenetic activity raises a mountain of ethical issues.

  • How much will it all cost, and will the quest for immortality divert resources away from research into everyday sickness and disease?

  • What are the implications for our already overcrowded planet?

  • And if the robotic techniques do work, will we still be human - or more machine?

  • More fundamentally, though a few pampered billionaires can't imagine their wonderful lives ever ending, do the rest of us want to go on for ever?

In films and books, we have a name for those who do just that, complaining about the loneliness and monotony of eternal life.


They're called vampires...


Unlocking the genetic secrets of the naked mole rat,

which is found in Africa, has been another priority

for those trying to solve the ageing puzzle




Techniques they are using

Rewriting our DNA

Google's secretive life-extension research arm, the California Life Company (CALICO), has recruited scientist Cynthia Kenyon, who has genetically engineered roundworms to live up to ten times longer than usual.

She achieved this by partially disabling a single gene - called daf-2. Intriguingly, humans who live to 100 are more likely to have mutations in this gene.

Kenyon believes it possible,

'that a fountain of youth, made of molecules and not simply dreams, will some day be a reality'.

Google's research unit is also believed to be developing a drug that can mimic another gene which appears to limit the height to which people grow, but which is also linked with exceptional longevity.


Unlocking the genetic secrets

of an ugly creature called the naked mole rat,

which is found in Africa, has been another priority

for those trying to solve the ageing puzzle.



The unlovely, hairless creature is immune to cancer, and lives ten times longer than ordinary subterranean rats (more than 30 years).

Experts think its longevity is linked to the fact it has so little oxygen to breathe in the underground tunnels where it exists. This keeps its metabolism incredibly slow, which in turn drastically reduces the rate at which its cells age and die.





Miniature robots

Google's director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, predicts that by the 2030s we will be putting millions of microscopic robots - called nanobots - inside our bodies to turbo-charge our immune systems and keep us healthy at a 'molecular level'.

These tiny medical devices, each the size of a human blood cell, and swallowed in pill form, would travel through our bloodstream delivering hormones and patching up the human body from within.

The aim is to counter harmful side-effects of treatments such as chemotherapy, which are often caused by the drugs that are pumped into the body not reaching the targeted cells accurately.

Nanobots, though, can be targeted with pinpoint accuracy at specific cells, or even specific sections of DNA within our cells. Experiments on animals have already had successes - with rats cured of diabetes using nanobots.

Many scientists ridiculed Kurzweil's sci-fi sounding ideas when he first set them out in a book a decade ago.


Now, the skeptics are less critical.


Peter Nygard, a Canadian billionaire,

has his own stem cells growing in a petri dish


Eternal life... in a petri dish

Another attack on ageing is the use of stem cells, the microscopic building blocks of our bodies.


One man convinced they are the answer is Peter Nygard, a Canadian billionaire, who is staking much of his fortune on researching their uses.

Stem cells have the potential to develop into many different kinds of human tissue, meaning they can be introduced into the body as 'spare parts' to repair faulty cells or organs. Scientists have extracted them from blood, teeth, bone marrow and body fat.

Nygard, a fashion empire founder in his 70s, has his own stem cells growing in a petri dish, and injects them into his body four times a year.


Not only does he think he'll live longer, he's sure he'll get younger.

'This is huge. This is a game-changer. This could eliminate all disease. This is perhaps immortality,' he boasts in a promotional video in which he compares his pioneering research to the achievements of Leonardo da Vinci.

Some scientists say his obsession with reversing the ageing process gives stem-cell research a bad name, because it detracts from the serious life-saving work being done in the field.

But New York doctor Lionel Bissoon agrees with him, saying:

'If you're a wealthy guy and haven't stored your stem cells, I think you're a total idiot.'


The search for new blood

Some believe the answer to longer life may lie in swapping our ageing blood for fresher, younger blood.

Pope Innocent VIII died in 1492 after it was said he drank the blood of three young boys in an attempt to absorb their vitality. Although the transfusion experiment failed with tragic results, he may have been on to something.

Tests on mice have shown that blood plasma from young mice can restore the mental capabilities of older mice. This was originally achieved by a macabre process known as parabiosis, which sounds like something out of Dr Frankenstein's notebook.

The flanks of two animals - one old and infirm, the other young and healthy - were stitched together so that their blood supplies mingled.

Experiments showed that while the older mice got younger and healthier, the younger ones aged prematurely.

Today, a human trial is under way at California's Stanford university to test if a similar result occurs when Alzheimer's sufferers receive blood transfusions - via intravenous drips - from younger people. Thankfully, this doesn't involve them being stitched together.

Tony Wyss-Coray, the project's leader, says that, if successful, it is hoped to isolate what it is in the younger blood that is responsible, and try to turn it into a drug to treat disease.

But others clearly see alternative uses: after publishing his own research on mice, Wyss-Coray says he was contacted by 'many healthy, very rich people' asking if it could help them live longer.


Advance of the clones

Another prospect, equally chilling to some, is the idea of replacing failing body organs with cloned or robotic versions.

Kazuo Ishiguro's dystopian novel Never Let Me Go imagined a future in which a group of young people gradually understand they are clones of the rich, and that their healthy body parts will be given to their 'owners' when they need them in a process that will eventually kill the youngsters.

Replacing failing organs doesn't need to be quite so brutal, however.

Scientists have already managed to use 3D printing to create living kidneys and livers, in a process that involves blending samples of human organ cells with hydrogel, a water and nutrition-rich material.

Even if a person were dying, it's thought new organs could be implanted via a procedure called 'cold saline resuscitation', in which the patient's blood was replaced with chilled saline - salted water - thus lowering the body's temperature and putting the patient into suspended animation.

Doctors would then have the opportunity to deal with organ failures that would otherwise have been fatal.

Half-man, half-machine

Eccentric Russian internet billionaire Dmitry Itskov is investing millions in a project to transfer human brains - and with them our 'consciousness' - into robotic 'avatars', physically superior representatives of ourselves.

He says he plans to enjoy,

'10,000 years for numerous hobbies'.

Some go still further.


Ray Kurzweil, Google's 'futurist', is convinced that,

'immortality is within our grasp'.

He predicts that by 2045, computers will have surpassed us in intelligence, and humans will be able to,

'transcend biology by merging with technology' - uploading their consciousness into a computer.

He will be 97 by then, but is determined to be alive to benefit from this new phase of human evolution, which he calls The Singularity.

So determined is he, in fact, that he is attempting to 're-program' his body's biochemistry by swallowing 150 dietary supplements every day, from vitamin D to a 'co-enzyme' called Q10, which plays a role in turning sugar into energy for the cells.