Aging is a daunting thought. We all want to live long, healthy, fulfilling lives, yet aging is unavoidable. Estimates indicate that by 2030, 16% of people will be over sixty, and by 2050 that number will have doubled to around 33%. So, it makes sense that the longevity market is one of the fastest growing markets in recent times, but there’s a catch. Trying to stop the irreversible onslaught of time brings forth questions that we might not be ready to answer.
The concept of longevity is tricky to define as there are many ways of approaching it. For starters, the ‘traditional’ focus to extend longevity is by slowing down aging. This way, we stay healthy for longer. Then, there’s the idea of rejuvenation with technology and new treatments. This concept involves not only slowing down aging but stopping it altogether and, in some cases, reversing it. Both convey advantages and disadvantages, and though they might seem like a farfetched fantasy, we’re actually at a point where we’re doing this.
Healthy living has improved so much that we’re currently living our healthiest possible lives. Technology, medication, and information has extended life expectancy from 66 in 1950 to 77 in 2020. With such advancements, it’s valid to ask where is this new concept of longevity taking us? For some scientists, researchers, and startups, the answer is to aim for 200 years of life.
Living for two centuries might be daunting to many, so it’s important to clarify that the concept goes beyond a number. Instead, it’s creating the right technology to guarantee healthy aging where it’s been previously impossible, and that’s because aging isn’t only about our bodies. For example, we’ve long believed that longevity was 30% genetic and 70% environmental. Still, some studies have shown that genetics might only contribute to around 7% of aging, with the rest being external factors. So, since we can’t inherit a lot of longevity, the race to change the rest becomes even more pressing.
The startup world is rampant with hundreds of ideas to slow the aging process. It’s become so crucial that longevity-focused startups raised more than $40 billion in 2021, and there are estimates that the market will reach $600 billion in 2025. What’s interesting is that most of these startups focus on four conditions that make up 90% of deaths after 50: cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative diseases.
Let’s take organs as an example. Some age faster than others, especially with alcohol and tobacco consumption. If we add that we might not have the right genes for a healthy liver, we could end up with disease faster than expected. That’s where one startup plans to change things by regenerating liver tissues. LyGenesis is a startup that found impressive results by injecting organs with its proprietary cellular therapy. With this treatment, it managed to reverse aging in liver cells. Such was the progress that, by mid-2022, the startup was starting human testing.
There are good ideas that require some caution. Elysium Health is a startup providing at-home tests to measure how much we’ve been aging. From the outside, the idea is excellent. However, without the proper guidance, having such complex information about how fast we’re aging could have a negative impact. Our access to technology might makes us obsessed with results without the proper education for understanding them, leading to a serious self-diagnosis problem.
What about editing our bodies? This sounds concerning, but it’s a reality. CRISPR gene editing is the process by which we modify the genome of living organisms. The great thing about CRISPR is that it can help in treatment and prevention. In theory, this technology could put 89% of diseases behind us, and the amount of startups taking full advantage of this technology is impressive. In 2022, one startup, Verve Therapeutics, began human testing to lower cholesterol levels through gene editing, and that’s just the beginning.
On the other hand, even the most controversial ideas show that the future is more impressive than we could’ve thought. For example, Elon Musk’s Neuralink caused a stir when he explained it as having a Fitbit in your skull. Sure, not the best choice of words, but the potential for this technology to help paraplegic patients, or those with neurological conditions, seems limitless until we get into the philosophical aspect. The brain has 86 billion neurons, and Musk wants to exploit them to unforeseen levels. So, the thin line between longevity and the unknown blurs. These radical ideas have put the company to the test. Lately, Neuralink has gone through some rough patches. Still, if it manages to overcome them, we might see life-changing technology.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of startups working hard to extend life in a world that’s too populated, faces climate disasters, and has gone through such political turmoil that it has accelerated the Doomsday Clock. So, as we see this revolution to extend our lives unfold in front of us, we must ask ourselves, what good will we do for the next two hundred years?
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