We spoke to Dr. Alex Zhavoronkov about his belief that humans are capable of living to a century-and-a-half, and asked why anyone would actually want to.
This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
On the face of it, radical life extension seems a bit presumptuous. Hubristic, even. Longevity researchers are very keen on the notion that death can be "disrupted," but death has been doing its thing with grim efficiency ever since we crawled out of the swamp. And even if we manage to evade the end for a little longer, what's the use? Once you reach 115, it's not like you'll be living the most mobile of lives.
This hasn't stopped billionaires like Larry Ellison and Peter Thiel from pouring serious money into anti-aging research. Or hedge fund manager Joon Yun from launching a $1 million prize challenging scientists to "hack the code of life" and move the human lifespan past its apparently stubborn outer limits.
One longevity researcher, Dr. Alex Zhavoronkov, believes it's possible to live until 150 years old. He takes 100 different drugs a day and monitors his own blood biochemistry in a bid to make it past the longest recorded lifespan, 122. He's the director of the UK-based Biogerontology Research Foundation, has his own drug company, Insilico Medicine, and is the author of The Ageless Generation, so it's safe to say he's an authority on the matter.
I spoke to him about his drug regime, God, and which video games are worth playing in the extra decades of a longer life.
VICE: Hi, Alex. How far forward is longevity research, or radical life extension?
Dr. Alex Zhavoronkov: I would compare it to the late 1970s for personal computers, or late 80s for the internet. The building blocks are there; it's just a matter of putting them together and experimenting boldly. If you look at Ray Kurzweil, the inventor who was known for very bold futurist projections, he's now one of the top people at Google. And Google are now investing big in longevity research through [the biotech company] Calico.
What are the most effective ways to live longer?
Better diet and more exercise won't significantly extend life spans, but they can get you some marginal improvement. Drugs with geroprotective properties cannot make you live forever, but they can significantly extend life spans and the quality of life. We are learning more about the possibilities for geroprotectors—drugs and therapies which affect the root causes of aging and age-related diseases—all the time.
How do geroprotectors work?
Some geroprotectors slow down metabolism, some activate stress response and repair mechanisms, some reduce accumulated damage. But those are just the ones we know about, the early birds. The next frontier will be regenerative medicine—advanced cell therapies, laboratory-grown tissues and organs, and drugs that reprogram cells and induce regeneration processes. And in ten to 15 years, you will see gene therapies that will tweak our genetic material so it becomes more resistant to the effects of aging.
You take 100 different drugs a day. What are they?
Well, I don't want to get into specifics because I don't want your readers to start taking these drugs without knowing much about them, without a proper understanding of how to tailor their regiment, or monitor their own blood biochemistry and cell counts.
But you take a lot of vitamins and supplements—what's your daily routine?
Yes, I take several drugs before lunch that compensate for increased caloric intake, some after lunch, and some more in the evening to help me recuperate during the reasonably short time I allocate for sleep. A lot of them—maybe 90 percent of them—are over-the-counter drugs, supplements, minerals, and vitamins, which I take in high concentrations. I take large amounts to over-saturate the system and make sure they are delivered where they are needed in the body.
And the other 10 percent?
Another 10 percent are prescription drugs, or drugs not available to the public. So some self-experimentation, which I must admit sometimes backfires and I need to readjust everything. I have many friends who are brilliant physicians, hematologists and imaging experts who help me interpret the regular blood draws and imagining tests, and tell me if I'm over-doing something.
How long is it really possible to live for?
Saying we can live to 150 sets an achievable horizon. The current record is 122 and-a-half. Some 60- and 70-year-old people today have a fighting chance to beat this record if they try. Our previous psychological longevity expectations are difficult to break. We think of aging as a kind of comfort, a rest, a natural decline, and find comfort in philosophy or religion. But people who are having fun, who want to do more and change things—they want to live longer. They don't want to age. It's an attitude change.
You're saying we can live without ill-health, without decrepitude, in our later years?
I think of aging as a complex, multifactorial but curable disease. It should be classified as a disease. In theory, we can be healthy throughout our life. From every perspective I think it's worth removing pain and suffering from late life.
How do you keep yourself active, in preparation for some extra decades at the end of life?
Personally, I like to push myself onto another level, every year. It's why I decided to postpone reproduction and forming a family. I don't accumulate a lot of material wealth. Every event, like forming a family or a certain level of material achievement, triggers certain psychological responses—you become more comfortable and much more risk averse.
But many people would say having kids brings great joy and happiness.
It's a personal choice. For me it would be a distraction from my work. I haven't achieved the major goals yet. I don't want to have the responsibility [of children], or any trigger that would make me less risk averse and more interested in material assets.
Related: Watch 'The Miraculous Life of El Niño Fidencio,' which looks at an unofficial Mexican saint who is said to have healed the sick:
So you think a longer life will make people more rational, able to plan their lives better?
Yes, absolutely. The value of your life increases. Let's say you have 200 years ahead of you, you're more likely to understand you have more time to experiment, to become educated, to plan and so on. I also think life is more fun now [than when life was shorter] because of the technology and entertainment systems we have now.
Is a longer life really going to be more interesting? Won't it become a bit boring and repetitive?
If anyone says to me, "Well, a long life isn't going to be interesting," I say, "Try an addictive video game." I'm not talking about Angry Birds. Try Fallout or Assassin's Creed and you'll realize that life is really fun.
But what, ultimately, is the point? What's the point of a longer life, of drawing out the whole experience?
Well, think of athletes setting themselves goals. What, ultimately, is the point of the Olympics? Those sort of philosophical questions are not answered easily. But living longer will help us explore the world better and figure more things out. If we had Albert Einstein or Sir Issac Newton or Alan Turing alive today, the world could have been a better place because they were geniuses, and we need to retain genius longer.
Religion is there to help us accept our own mortality. Isn't the obsession with a longer life just delaying or denying that acceptance?
Well, the scientific explanation of all religions is they developed to help us cope with imminent death. I used to be a devout Christian myself, but once you start doing science, you need to let some things go... But I don't wish to offend anyone. People are free [to believe] what they want to believe. A longer life means people will have more time to find their common understanding with God, if they wish.
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