Immortality and Science

By Senayt Nur

Immortality: an imminent reality or futuristic?

Immortality, rather sound like a Sci-Fi character’s ability, but modern science says this is no longer true. In this exponentially growing technology, the linear life of humans, being a forever one, may not be long coming after all.

Ray Kurzweil, the most popularized living futurist, “the ultimate thinking machine”, as called by Forbes magazine, says life extension will be possible within the next thirty years. Since 2010, large research companies, foundations, and institutes have solely dedicated their time, money, and resources on the aim of radically extending life.

Aubrey de Grey, another famed researcher in the fields of Gerontology, thinks that the merging of healthcare industries have an incredible impact on longevity. Furthermore, he claims, within twenty years humans could reach ‘Longevity escape velocity’: for every year that passes, life expectancy will increase by at least one year; the ticking clock towards death would finally stop. [1]

Aging is a multi-causal complex and genetically determined process .In early nineteenth-century, August Weismann proposed the theory about aging as a process of replacing the old with new ones— more like replacing old and worn out shoes with new ones. Not long after he dropped the theory of replacement and proposed a new theory saying organisms that separated soma and reproduction must invest more on reproducing than on maintaining soma. He said this renunciation of the soma results in aging. [2]

Another evolution scientist, Rose, in 1991 described aging as “a persistent decline in the age specific fitness component of an organism due to internal physiological degenerations.”[2]

Hitherto, aging was defined as a natural phenomenon hence, not a disease! Aging was not only conceived as a natural and inevitable biological degradation, separate from disease, but it was also looked as a risk factor for developing diseases. Now more than ever scientists agree biological aging is a disease, similar to those noninfectious diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Therefore, the blooming trend in recent medicine leans towards the notion that, via the combination of multidisciplinary theories and [technology], researchers on the field can combat it like any other disease!

Although there are many causes that bring biologic aging, scientists have focused on Telomere Shortening.

Gerontologists agree extension of the healthy human lifespan will require targeting of the clockwork mechanisms that cause aging. Understanding and controlling the central mechanism of aging; an upstream central regulators that subsequently trigger mechanisms further downstream, pathological mechanisms such as chronic inflammation that inflict age related changes in specific tissues, and targeting these molecules in the downstream mechanisms such as pro-inflammatory cytokines that directly trigger disease process would mean extending human life expectancy. The upstream controlling mechanisms in the mortal human body might be the clock of cellular aging, which counts off how many times a cell has divided and determines how old a cell really is.

The difference between somatic cells and pluripotent cells is, pluripotent cells have the power to become a variety of cell types. And most somatic cells lack sufficient telomerase (telomerase is an enzyme that synthesizes telomeres, a repeated sequence of DNA at the end of a DNA strand needed to maintain cellular viability. Telomeres shorten with aging and when the number of telomeres is short the cell undergoes programed cell death.)[2]

The 2013 news from a Spanish national cancer research center in Madrid was the breakthrough science has been waiting for; for the first time in the history of modern medicine scientists succeeding in creating a stem cell in living mice. In the creation of these stem cells, the technique used involves injecting ordinary skin cells with four genetic factors, which as a result are reprogramed to be [behave like] embryonic stem cells.

Prior to this practical experiment, two Nobel Prize Winners [The 2012 Nobel for physiology or medicine] Dr. John B. Gurdon and Dr. Shinya Yamanaka in 1960s and the 2000s, correspondingly, described that it is possible to take human somatic cells back to embryonic stem line, a state of immortal pluripotency without making an embryo called induced pluripotent stem cells. This cell can be used not only to revert a cell in the body back in to powerful pluripotent stem cell state, but also to activate telomerase and reset the clock of cell aging all the way back to the very beginning of life. [3]

Even though the stem cell research is now a fast-paced ever-moving section of the medical research wing, it still faces fundamentally practicality problems. The biggest concern relating stem cell therapy is misdirected growth. The possibility that transplanted stem cells or, in case of induced stem cell therapy, the converted ones, differentiating in to the wrong type of tissue is a great concern. There needs to be control and directing the growth of these cells into the desired tissue cells. Hopefully, this limits the capacity of these cells to differentiate into undesired tissue once induced.

More recent news from BioViva Sciences Inc. announced that their CEO Elizabeth Parish has become the first human being to be successfully rejuvenated by gene therapy. The experimental therapies have reversed twenty years of telomere shortening over seven month period. The higher the telomere length the younger the cell. [4]

In March 2016, tests taken by SpectralCell revealed that Elizabeth’s telomeres had lengthened by approximately twenty years. These findings were independently verified by the Brussels–based non-profit HEALES (Healthy Life Extinction Company) and the BGRF (Biogerontology Research Foundation), a UK based charity committed to combating age-related diseases. [4]

This research is a definite path opener on the road to ‘indefinite life extension’ and Elizabeth Perish go down in history as “patient zero” of restorative gene therapy.

Immortal humans; then what?

Ending aging entails multiple social, cultural, and economic consequences. If we were to develop a cure for aging tomorrow, the impact on humankind would be unpredictable. For starters, biological, social, and psychological problems are in need of solutions, if we are to move forward with longevity researches.

From the problems mentioned above hindering our path to immortality, the biological problems took the lion’s share.

Brain capacity is the first concern. The human brain, no doubt, is enormously vast and can be crammed with up to 2.5 petabytes of memory data, but it is a finite one! Right now, the notion of running out of space seems ridiculously silly. Yet, our brain is limited biologically and it is designed for beings who aspire to live not more than 300 years.

Yes, it is true that it is very difficult to calculate the size of human memories and memories vary in size and even in association. But still, an immortal human needs an infinite brain. Otherwise, the future immortal humans [with the current brain] will suffer the fate of being a specious haunted by amnesia.

Our DNA also suffers information loss through time. Although DNA contains self-repair mechanism they will not be effective if we go on living forever. FNA repair mechanisms are going to have to work many times more effective and accurately. [5]

When we scratch on the social and economic complications, the most obvious side effect of immortality is going to be population growth. If people don’t die, the birth rate is not offset via the death rate. This would result in a linear population growth; in a world with limited resource, supplying food and housing for an immortal and ever-breading race would be a nightmare.

These are just the highlights of the problems facing immortality, and as the science gets closer and closer the arguments are going to get more fierce and to a point where they demand a solution. This has nothing to do with an over-rated cynicism but, achieving immortality before solving the current shortcomings of both, our body [its biology and Psyche] and our planet, might lead us to a nasty dystopian future.

In May 25, 1961, Kennedy promised to land a man on the moon even though the then ‘US and A’ didn’t even have a space program yet. On July 1969, Neil Armstrong fulfilled that promise. The takeoff to Immortality has now a well-established program!

The challenges are real, and in fact, mostly unpredictable. However, achieving immortality has always been one of the persistent human instincts and it is time to take the final step. Looks like our times medicine and the main goal of our civilization is heading towards curing aging and through the process, we will discover the right technology that appears imminent.

Let’s hope we live long enough to live forever”.                                                                     –Ray Kurzweil


  1. Taylor, Glyn. Immortality: When (soon) and How. That’s Really Possible, 11 Dec. 2013. Web. 04 Sept. 2016.
  2. West, Michael. D. How engineered stem cells may enable youthful immortality., Feb. 2013. Web. 11 Sept. 2016.
  3. West, Michael D, and Homayoun Vaziri. Back to Immortality: The Restoration of Embryonic Telomere Length During Induced Pluripotency. Regenerative Medicine 5.4 (2010): 485–488. Web.
  4. Taylor, Glyn. First successful Anti-Ageing Gene Therapy, Claimed by BioViva. That’s Really Possible, 24 Apr. 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
  5. Reber, Paul. “What Is the Memory Capacity of the Human Brain?”. Scientific America (2010): n.pag. Web. 12 Sept. 2016.
  6. Adams, Ernest W. Some practical problems of immortality. 1998. Web. 10 Sept. 2016.

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