Breakthrough: The Science Of Living Forever
In the words of the immortal Queen song, who wants to live forever? Us, please. Tonight’s episode of groundbreaking science documentary Breakthrough looks at the revolutionary research taking place in the field of ageing.
Dr. Gordon Lithgow is a Scottish geneticist who works at the Buck Institute for Research on Ageing in California. He studies agents in animals that can extend lifespan or prevent age-related disease. He then applies his discoveries to studies in human cell cultures. In theory, his work could help us understand the secret to living forever.
We sat down with Lithgow at a recent press event in London to talk about his work and his episode of Breakthrough.
Asked what the secret to a long life is, Lithgow said: “There are chemical compounds that extend life, but only in laboratory animals so far. Mouse experiments are very expensive and take two- three years to conduct, but there are compounds that are slowing ageing in these animals.
“This is the big question. Is it possible that some of these drug-like things can slow ageing in humans? Part of the National Geographic documentary is following the story of clinician scientists who are trying to get one of the first clinical trials in ageing underway.”
It’s far from an easy task however. One of the main struggles of those studying ageing is trying to receive approval from authorities who do not consider ageing a disease.
“In the United States, what you really need is a FDA-approved clinical trial, that’s the organisation that licenses drugs. The FDA doesn’t consider ageing a disease, most of us probably don’t consider ageing a disease either, but to get FDA approval to have a proper clinical trial, you have to have it designated as a disease. So there’s politics going on right now, and the front end of [this episode] is this attempt as you’ll see in the doctors attempt a clinical trial.”
Another obvious challenge is that of ethics. Should Lithgow and his colleagues be successful in their attempts to find a means of extending lifespan, who should be the recipients of such a treatment?
“The number one issue is how we provide access to information and to potential therapies. If we’re talking about chemical compounds that are interventions in ageing, are we going to sell those to people or are we going to give them to people? That debate is part of a wider healthcare debate.
“People in the deprived areas are ageing faster because they’re deprived. We already do make distinctions between who’s going to be healthy and who’s not, so maybe the ageing thing will then contribute to that. This really throws the situation into high gear here, if we actually are able to slow ageing, whose ageing do we get to slow? That’s a huge ethical question.”
Breakthrough: The Age of Ageing premieres Sunday 29th November 10pm on National Geographic Channel.