In order to explain the relationship and relevance between human lifespan extension and the nation’s aging population, Dr. Corinne Kyriacou, associate professor and director of Hofstra’s Master of Public Health program, presented the last of three Science Night Live lectures for this semester on Wednesday, Nov. 16, titled “Extending the Human Lifespan: Implications of an Aging Population.” During the event, held in the Fortunoff Theater in Monroe Lecture Center, Kyraicou spoke about the diversity of topics addressed during the three-part lecture series, having said “The person that created SNL really was looking to look at science in a lot of different ways, in a very multidisciplinary way. Bob Brinkmann ... he’s currently our associate provost for scholarship here and he created it. And he really wants people to think about science in different ways. So yes there’s basic science, chemistry, biology, physics, but then there’s economics and the social sciences, and psychological sciences and there’s policy sciences, so that’s why he asked me to give this talk because it really touches on basic sciences, but it’s mostly about social sciences.”
The talk began with the history of human lifespan extension and the hurdles conquered up until now, addressing the efforts of lifespan extension in the present and concerns about its future.
“In the last 25 years we have made great strides in not only expanding life expectancies but starting to close the historical gap that exists across different racial ethnic groups,” Kyraicou explained. Advancements include decreases in infant mortality rates and increases in life expectancies, which have nearly doubled the life expectancy in the last century.
Modern efforts for life extension are still in their nascent stages, but increasing interest and investment from tech capitals like Silicon Valley are financing the scientific pursuit of life extension. “Although we don’t completely understand the underlying causes of aging, the extending life research has really moved from the realm of science fiction to mainstream research,” Kyraicou said.
As the idea of life extension grows more favorable, the ethical problems associated with it are also called into question, such as the disparity between life expectancies of different nations. Radical approaches to life extension include the belief that there is no upper limit to a human lifespan and that in another century the human lifespan will likely double again. The approach has significant backing from tech meccas like Silicon Valley. There is also interest from leading research institutes across the nation.
Still, Kyraicou believes that the need for global life expectancy improvement eclipses the need for longer human lifespans. As she explained, “I really think that we have a lot of work to do to get everybody at the life expectancy that some of us experience. And until we do that I wouldn’t want to put wider resources into expanding life to 120 and 140; I want people to have healthy lifespans up to 80, 90, 100 and then everybody enjoys that, not just in our country but across the world.”
Sophomores from the John F. Kennedy High School Advance Science Research program commented on the implications of aging for a younger demographic and the idea of aging as a disease.
Victoria Dina said, “I thought it was interesting about how they thought aging could actually be a disease. I’ve never thought of it like that and it was a new way to think about how getting older could be something that could be fixed.”
Whitney Sussman said, “As young people I just think it’s really interesting to see a new perspective of aging especially since as young people we don’t really think of it as often.”
“The fact that it could be a disease is kind of insane to think about. Because a disease is something that, Alzheimer’s for example, they’re essentially comparing it to Alzheimer’s in a way, but like the opposite,” said another student, Rebecca Cortez. “Alzheimer’s is [when] you’re going backwards in life, essentially, and they’re saying this also means you’re going further in life. And it’s weird to think that they’re comparing the two, they seem so different.”
Silicon Valley’s endorsement of the radical approach to life extension contrasts with the need for equitable life expectancy across the globe. But as the technology improves, the promise of a longer life for all bodes well despite current challenges.
Kyraicou explained, “As we get more and more computer power and as we get more and more sophisticated with nanotechnology, the possibilities are endless.”