People who live well beyond 100 inevitably get asked: What’s the secret? Is it kindness? Abstaining from alcohol? Avoiding men? We’ve long scoured the lives of the super-long-lived for clues about how to live longer. But statistics show this might be a fool’s errand. Crunching the numbers reveals we’re potentially already at the limit of human lifespan.
100 years ago, the average person’s life expectancy in the U.S. hovered around the high-50s. Today, not only are people living longer, they’re staying healthier—which begs the question: Will human immortality ever be in reach? It’s a frequent topic of conversation for WIRED’s science team, and the impetus for our recent series on the science of aging and longevity.
Here, we’re sharing a handful of those stories, alongside some of the gems from our archives on everything from reanimating cells after death to the quest to make a digital copy of your brain. Or if you’re wondering about a pill that could extend the life of your dog, well, you’re in luck. We’ve got that too. Because what’s the point of eternal life if you have to constantly bid farewell to beloved pets?
Are there too many stories here? Maybe. But we’re really excited about the mysteries of longevity—and you’ve got plenty of time, haven’t you?
PHOTOGRAPH: JUSTIN PUMFREY/GETTY IMAGES
Rob Reddick: In 2015, US company BioViva became the first to inject a person—its CEO nonetheless—with a gene therapy to reverse the effects of aging. It claims the experiment was a success, but researchers aren’t so sure. Now BioViva is promoting its therapies to others looking to turn back the clock. Safety isn’t guaranteed—and neither, crucially, is efficacy. One thing is though: Prices start at $75,000. No refunds.
KP: Meet the world’s oldest naked mole rat, the most long-lived member of a wrinkly underground rodent species known for being … well, long-lived. Despite their ugly mugs, naked mole rats have got great bones. And cardiovascular systems. And they hardly ever get cancer. This is the story of what we can learn from the world’s most resilient creature.
Kara Platoni: The key to aging may lie in one of the body’s least understood organs: the ovary. This tissue ages faster than any other, and when the ovaries stop working at menopause, the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and dementia rises. Now researchers are investigating whether forestalling menopause can push back the symptoms of aging itself.
KP: About a dozen at-home tests now claim to parse your “biological age” based on your blood, spit, or a cheek swab—but what exactly do these tools measure? And what should you do with that information?
KP: A startup is trying to develop a drug that will delay aging in dogs, and hopefully also prove out a treatment that works in people. (If you want to see adorable photos of some of the WIRED staff’s beloved canine pals, this is one for you.)
KP: Sorry, this story is not actually about zombie pigs. But it is the equally fascinating tale of the quest to delay cell death after the body stops functioning, in the hope of keeping organs healthy enough for transplant.
KP: What if you could have a “digital twin” of your brain, a computer model that could be used to predict how well treatments for conditions like Alzheimer’s or epilepsy would work for your (real) brain? And what happens to that twin when you die?
KP: The immune system’s T cells are a protective army that fights off cancers and viral invaders—but that battle comes at a cost to the cells, which eventually get exhausted and die. In this novel experiment in mice, researchers were able to keep these cells in peak fighting shape indefinitely, offering a glimpse into future treatments for cancer, autoimmune disorders, and perhaps clues to healthy aging.
RR: Millions of people worldwide suffer from dementia, but it’s still underdiagnosed and often detected too late. Identify it earlier, and it could be treated better. Startup Accexible has just the method for doing this—by looking for tell-tale signs of cognitive decline that can be heard in people’s voices.
KP: This is a close-up look at what happens inside aging stem cells in the blood, showing that their ability to take out cellular “garbage”—misfolded proteins— diminishes over time. Developing new drugs that keep this crucial machinery running could help fight age-related diseases.
KP: Several types of the shelled reptiles can slow—and even stop—aging if the environmental conditions are right. This is a peek into the science of senescence, or the gradual deterioration of the body, and whether it’s inevitable. (At least for turtles.)
KP: Researchers have long debated the “amyloid hypothesis,” or whether clumps of misfolded amyloid beta protein are the cause of Alzhiemer’s disease. It’s been hard to prove that a drug that clears this protein slows cognitive decline—until recently, when a new drug showed promising results.
Kara Platoni and Rob Reddick
WIRED Science covers health, biotech, climate, the environment, space and robotics. Kara Platoni is the Senior Editor, Science, and Rob Reddick is the Science Editor. You can find the latest stories from us on the WIRED website.