"The first immortal human beings are probably living among us today." Thus begins a new book by Ben Bova, President Emeritus of the National Space Society and former editor of Omni magazine. Mr. Bova's volume is entitled
Immortality: How Science is Extending Your Life Span -- and Changing the World. In it, he argues that "there are men and women alive today who may well be able to live for centuries, perhaps even extend their life spans indefinitely." The author talks about some of the recent scientific breakthroughs with Voice of America's Dan Noble.
DN: Dr. Bova, we are fast approaching immortality. As you write, people over the age of 85 are the fastest growing segment of the nation's population. How did that come about?
BB: Life expectancy has increased in much of the industrialized world, mainly because of the advances in medicine and sanitation. Children no longer die of childhood diseases, like whooping cough, or diphtheria. But, what I'm writing about, in my book
Immortality: How Science is Extending Your Life Span -- and Changing the World is extending life span. No one we know of has ever lived more than 122 years. But, now, we are on the threshold of life spans of many centuries. Not only will people live for hundreds of years, but they'll remain young. We are talking about the conquest of aging and separating the physical condition of your body from the number of years that you live.
DN: What is making this possible? What scientific developments?
BB: Basically, biologists are learning what are the clocks in our cells that tell the cells when to die. If you can control those clocks, you can not only stop aging, you can reverse it. So that we will live for for centuries but we'll live with the bodies of 20 or 30 year olds.
DN: Will this be available for everyone, or for just those who have money?
BB: That's why I wrote Immortality, because right now no one has put it altogether and realizes that this is coming and it is coming soon. In, I would think, ten years, we will see clinical trials of therapies that will reverse aging. I don't want it to be a secret. I don't want it to be the private preserve of an elite group. I don't want some bureaucracy in government or industry to hold this and suppress it so that the rest of us can't have it.
DN: One thing that you write about is regeneration. How, exactly, does that work scientifically?
BB: Think of it this way: Once you were an individual cell. One little cell. But, that cell had all the information needed to grow all the bits and parts of your body. Your eyes. Your fingers. Your heart. Your liver. Your arms and legs. That information is still locked inside the DNA of your cells, but it's been deactivated. When necessary you should be able to activate specific parts of that DNA so that if you need a new heart, you'll grow one. If you need a new leg, you'll grow one. In my book, Immortality, I talk about tests that have been done in the states on people who had blocked arteries in their legs that were so severe that they couldn't walk. They faced amputation. They received an injection of growth hormone and grew by-pass arteries. Now they can work. Now, they are no longer facing amputation. In Germany, the same technique was used for coronary arteries. With an injection of growth hormone, they grew by-pass arteries, naturally, with their own tissues, without surgery. This is regeneration. You can, in theory, re-grow any part of your body if you know how to unlock the DNA and activate it and that is what the biologists and geneticists are learning.
DN: Today, we see some elderly people with good bodies but decaying minds, or with decaying bodies and fine minds. This will be able to help both categories?
BB: Yes, because if you can reverse aging you'll be physically like a 30 or 40 year old. You'll be active, vigorous. Your brain will be getting a good supply of blood. And, I think, the neuropsychologists have found that when you are active, when you are constantly receiving new stimuli, the brain functions better. In fact, the neurons grow new interconnections. So, in a sense, you get smarter.
DN: Thank you, very much, Dr. Bova. We've been speaking with Ben Bova, author of
Immortality: How Science is Extending Your Life Span -- and Changing the World. I'm Dan Noble.