The Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the UN states that the ‘Right to Life’ is one of the most fundamental ones. The gravest crime that could be committed against that right is death itself. Death is one of the founding stones for all religions of the world, with the concepts of heaven, hell, rebirth or reincarnation being common amongst most of them.
For centuries the personification of death itself was the black hooded figure - the Grim Reaper, as it was called in medieval times. Today, we can narrow down the cause of death to three reasons - dysfunction, malfunction and accidents. While accidents are merely chance occurrences caused by a twisted fate, the other two causes are quite complex. Historian Yuval N Harari writes the same claiming death to be a technical problem. Pathogens in our organs, fatty livers, eroded intestines, and faulty hearts, are all bodily malfunctions or dysfunctions.
In 2013, Google launched Calico - California Life Company, whose mission was to ‘solve death’. Bill Maris, a believer of immortality, presides over the funds for this project and has stated in interviews that he believes that it is possible to live till five hundred. Google Ventures invests 36% of its funds in life science start-ups and other ambitious life longevity projects. Silicon Valley industries have now gone farther than simply providing IT solutions or cloud computing transformations. PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel has also been seen to share similar beliefs.
While immortality seems both impossible and far-fetched, longevity does not. Life expectancy in the 20th century, despite a drop because of the 1918 flu pandemic in the US, increased by thirty years almost doubling itself to jump up to seventy. The general life expectancy of the world’s population is expected to be 85 by 2050 and 150 at the end of the 21st century, almost doubling yet again. While the Calico project is not going to make Sundar Pichai live till he’s 500, it has the potential to make great strides towards re-engineering molecular biology, cell engineering and medical treatment while trying to solve death.
Currently, the biggest weapon in our arsenal is bioengineering. Medical researcher professionals at Mayo Clinic College of Medicine have made one of the biggest breakthroughs of the decade in understanding the complex world of physical aging. The researchers discovered that systematically removing a category of living, stagnant cells better known as senescent cells extends the lives of otherwise normal mice by 25 percent.
Senescent cells are essentially normal cells found all over our body such as those present in skin or heart muscle that has stopped dividing and reproducing. Cleansing these cells pushes back the process of aging, hence slowing the onset of various age related illnesses like cataract, heart and kidney deterioration and even tumor formation. The effect of the presence of senescent cells is largely negative, and removing them increases life span. The next big step is to test these processes on humans through clinical trials and see where it could take us in the future!