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Innovative Approaches to Improving Human Longevity

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While the reasons are varied, human longevity has increased markedly over time.  In 1924, the global average lifespan hovered around a mere ~46 years – a number skewed by high rates of deaths of infants alongside infectious diseases.  By 1974, this number dramatically rose, with the global average spiking to ~61 years as vaccinations became more widely accepted and modern healthcare was introduced to more areas worldwide.  Fast forward to 2024, and the average human lifespan across the globe sits at ~73 years, marking an increase of 27 years over a century and a testament to how far our understanding of the human body has come.

Science moves quickly; in only a few months, various advances have been made around the world that involve our understanding of longevity.  These insights include the study of biostasis in tardigrades,  leveraging CAR-T cells to battle cellular senescence, and even rejuvenating immunity in mammals.

Although impressive, things get interesting when considering the rate at which technology improves at an increasingly quicker pace.  With the advent of Artificial Intelligence, its ability to function as a ‘core technology‘ is expected to continue this acceleration by improving human lifespans through facilitating advancements in many innovative and sometimes controversial fields, like gene editing.

Keeping that in mind, below is a look at some of the current approaches being taken at promising companies by forward-thinking researchers and scientists meant to increase lifespans even further.

Non-Controversial Approaches to Increased Longevity

As mentioned, some approaches to increasing human longevity can be controversial—very much so at times. However, there are a few common methods that are founded on proven science.  These include regular physical activity, balanced nutritional intake, and even intermittent fasting.  Moving forward, the following are a few of the most promising approaches that may one day be listed alongside those we consider tried and true.

Senolytics and Senostatics

Senolytics are drugs designed to kill senescent cells selectively—cells that have stopped dividing and accumulate with age, contributing to aging and age-related diseases.  Senostatics, conversely, don't kill these cells but suppress their harmful effects.

Research has shown that removing senescent cells can improve healthspan, reduce frailty, and even extend lifespan in animal models.  Human trials are ongoing, and early results are promising, particularly for targeting diseases associated with aging.

Although several drugs continue to be tested in clinical trials, senolytics are promising but still largely experimental.  Overall, while the approach is scientifically grounded, it awaits further human validation.

Microbiome Optimization

The human microbiome, particularly the gut microbiome, plays a crucial role in overall health.  It affects everything from one's metabolism to the immune system and even brain function.

Promisingly, studies have linked a healthy gut microbiome with a reduced risk of various chronic diseases and conditions long associated with aging in humans.  Approaches taken in these studies have ranged from manipulating the microbiome through the following and more – each of which has shown potential in improving health outcomes.

  • Diet
  • Probiotics
  • Prebiotics
  • Fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT)

Like senolytics, the microbiome's influence on health may be well-accepted, but the best optimization methods are still being studied.  For now, research continues on specific probiotic strains and dietary interventions that have shown promise in improving health markers associated with longevity.

Photobiomodulation (PBM) and Low-Level Laser Therapy (LLLT)

PBM and LLLT are therapies that use specific wavelengths of light to stimulate cells.  The goal of this is to improve mitochondrial function and reduce inflammation.  These have already been applied in various medical conditions, from wound healing to musculoskeletal injuries, with promising results.  Interestingly, a reduction in systemic inflammation and morbidities through the use of Metformin has also shown signs of improving human longevity in a process known as Epigenetics.

In fact, there is ample and growing evidence that PBM can improve cellular health and reduce oxidative stress, potentially retarding aging processes as a result.  Furthermore, research has shown benefits in the health of human skin, muscle recovery, and even brain health.

As it stands, these therapies are typically considered more established for conditions like pain and inflammation reduction.  Their promise of positive effects on longevity means that research is ongoing.

Somewhat Controversial Approaches to Increased Longevity

Approaches involving senolytics, microbiomes, and light therapy may show promise in increasing human longevity, but they are by no means the only approaches being considered.  The following are a few more examples of potential therapies and approaches that may become the norm over the coming years – albeit slightly more controversial, given our current understanding of science.

Extreme Caloric Restriction (ECR)

ECR is a practice that involves significantly reducing calorie intake with the goal of increasing longevity while decreasing morbidities.  The key behind this approach is to do so while maintaining ideal levels of nutrition.

Interest in ECR and its potential to help humans was originally piqued after studies on animals showed that reducing caloric intake, typically by 20-40%, could extend lifespan and delay the onset of age-related diseases in species ranging from yeast and worms to mice and primates.  The potential was such that a human trial has since been completed, repeating the benefits and allowing scientists to identify key proteins.

The human trial, known as ‘Comprehensive Assessment of Long-term Effects of Reducing Intake of Energy (CALERIE)' remains controversial as, despite the potential benefits, concerns surrounding the ethics of the practice have been raised, alongside its potential for negative psychological effects.  As with each of the approaches to longevity listed, more understanding on the practice is needed before it will be accepted as a valid form for increasing longevity.

Radical Detoxification and Cleansing Diets

Radical detoxification and cleansing diets often promise to flush toxins from the body, leading to improved health and increased longevity.  These diets typically involve the consumption of specific liquids, fasting, or using supplements for short periods.

This approach is potentially one of the more dangerous due to its increased prevalence in society despite the lack of a full understanding of its effect on the human body.  The human body already has a highly efficient detoxification system that removes toxins: the liver and kidneys.

While some studies have examined the effects of fasting on longevity, these do not typically align with the drastic measures advocated by radical detox diets. Research into caloric restriction and intermittent fasting has shown potential benefits for health and longevity.  However, these practices differ significantly in approach and scientific backing from radical detox and cleansing routines. Critics and researchers argue that detox diets often lead to nutritional deficiencies, exacerbating health issues.

For now, this approach remains somewhat controversial, not just due to a lack of underlying research supporting its benefits but also because of its potential to harm.

Highly Controversial Approaches to Increased Longevity

Now, we have the practices surrounded by the highest level of controversy.  These therapies may one day be common practice but are, for now, quite experimental, may resemble something out of science fiction, and often raise ethical concerns.  As a result, those brave enough to consider them often resort to ‘medical tourism' – traveling abroad to regions lacking regulations that prevent such controversial therapies.

Young Blood Transfusion

Young blood transfusion has gained attention for its potential to reverse the effects of aging and improve longevity. It was inspired by research in parabiosis, where the circulatory systems of two animals are connected.

Early studies, particularly in mice, have suggested that sharing the blood of a younger mouse with an older one could lead to improved health markers and regeneration of some tissues in the older mouse.  This has led to speculation and further investigation into whether similar benefits could be seen in humans, with the idea being that young blood could potentially rejuvenate aging bodies by providing beneficial factors that decline with age.

Despite intriguing findings in animal models, the application of young blood transfusions in humans remains highly controversial and is largely unproven.  Critics point out ethical concerns, lack of comprehensive human trials to validate efficacy and safety, and potential exploitation.  The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has warned about clinics offering such treatments without proven benefits.  Consequently, while the concept of using young blood or its components to combat aging and improve longevity continues to be a subject of scientific study, it is far from being a validated or ethical treatment option for aging in humans.

Radical Gene Editing

When it comes to treating genetic diseases (e.g., Sickle Cell Anemia), radical gene editing with technologies like CRISPR-Cas9 is not overly controversial.  Rather, it is one of humanity's most promising scientific advancements for doing so.  Where it begins to cross the line into controversy is through its potential use in enhancing longevity and the concept of ‘designer babies' – a topic tackled in the perpetually underrate film ‘GATTACA‘.

The controversy around radical gene editing centers on issues such as potential unintended genetic consequences, ethical considerations, and equitable access to potentially expensive, cost-prohibitive treatments. Furthermore, the long-term impacts of heritable genetic modifications on the human gene pool are still unknown, adding to the controversy and calling for cautious and regulated approaches.

While the technology holds promise for addressing intractable genetic diseases and advancing our understanding of genetics, the discussion around its use for human longevity enhancement is particularly fraught with questions about the nature of aging, the societal implications of significantly extended lifespans, and the moral considerations of such profound interventions in natural biological processes.

What May Seem Foreign Will One Day Seem Mundane

Considering each of the approaches to enhancing longevity listed above, it is clear that our understanding of the human body has improved by leaps and bounds.  Relatively mundane approaches such as probiotics would have seemed quite foreign mere decades ago.  However, these only scratch the surface, with scores of other approaches like Stem-cell therapy under constant development.

Given this, what will the coming decades bring now that AI is on the scene, increasing our rate of advancement? Will gene editing become commonplace? Will methods from science fiction, like cryonics and digital immortality, be considered?  If some of the above examples pan out, we may just live long enough to find out.

Joshua Stoner is a multi-faceted working professional. He has a great interest in the revolutionary 'blockchain' technology.