Katharine Walter in Nautilus:
Biologist Eric Verdin considers aging a disease. His research group famously discovered several enzymes, including sirtuins, that play an important role in how our mitochondria—the powerhouses of our cells—age. His studies in mice have shown that the stress caused by calorie restriction activates sirtuins, increasing mitochondrial activity and slowing aging. In other words, in the lab, calorie restriction in mice allows them to live longer. His work has inspired many mitochondrial hacks—diets, supplements, and episodic fasting plans—but there is not yet evidence that these findings translate to humans. Last year, Verdin was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, the largest independent research institute devoted to aging research. The Buck, founded in 1999 by Marin County philanthropists Leonard and Beryl Hamilton Buck, includes more than 250 researchers working across disciplines to slow aging. Verdin, originally trained as a physician in his native Belgium, is eager to translate findings from the lab work done over the past 20 years in worms and mice to humans. “Aging without illness is our overarching goal!” he wrote when he began at the Buck. In a recent Nautilus interview, Verdin was optimistic about the future. He thinks we’ll continue to live longer and age better. But to live better longer, he says, requires research but also rethinking doctors’ visits.
Can those incredible increases in lifespan continue? Is there an upper limit?
There currently is an upper limit, and the upper limit is probably around 115, 120. You have a very large number—100 billion people to choose the number of people that have ever lived—and you have only one who has made it through to 122, Jeanne Calment. The second oldest was 119. It does seem there is an upper limit. Some people have shown that in the last hundred years, even though we have progressively increased the average lifespan, the number of people who live above 115 has not increased. That has to tell you that we might be reaching sort of a limit. That’s already a pretty good limit. If we could all live to 110 healthy and a disease in the last five years of life, I think most people would sign for this.