BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in the past 20 years life expectancy has increased by nearly 10% from 67 to 73 years old and they expect the rate of increase to accelerate.
UAB Biologist Dr. Steven Austad is one of the nation’s foremost longevity experts who for decades has sought to understand why and how we age. Dr. Austad is hopeful of the strides made in longevity, so much so that he believes in the not-too-distant future humans will live to 110, 120 and beyond.
”There’s real scientific progress that’s going on right now and people need to be aware of that,” said Austad.
Dr. Austad is so hopeful that he is convinced the limits of age are being broken by science and the benefit will limit death sentences via our most fatal diseases.
”All of the major diseases, aging is the biggest underlying risk factor,” Austad said. “Alzheimer’s, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, you name it. If we can target aging the possibility is we can delay all these things at the same time.”
Dr. Austad is not only boasting of the strides in longevity, he’s betting on them.
Austad and University of Illinois-Chicago professor and longevity expert Dr. S. Jay Olshansky began making yearly deposits into an investment fund back in 2000 – a fund that could easily be worth hundreds of millions of dollars by the year 2150.
”The bet is fairly simple” said Olshansky. “Will anybody alive in the year 2000 still be alive in the year 2150? If there isn’t anyone, then my ancestors will win the bet and if somebody is alive in 2150 then his ancestors win the bet. We both know we won’t be around.”
Dr. Austad cites major developments in research as to why he is bullish on longevity.
”There are at least five different lines of research that, if they pan out, they are going to change the biology of our aging dramatically,” Austad said. “So, living to 100 will become relatively common and living to 120, 130, 140 will be rare, but will happen.”
While Dr. Olshansky shares Austad’s optimism about the future, he simply doesn’t believe we are there yet.
”Since the world record for human longevity is 122. It is multiple light years difference between 122 and 150,” said Dr. Olshansky.
Dr. Austad said he’s betting on a major breakthrough that will fuel a seismic leap in the potential length of one’s life.
”We don’t have anything yet. What we have is a lot of promise. What we have is a good lifestyle,” Austad said. “Things your mother probably told you to do already. Eat right, don’t drink too much, don’t smoke, stay physically and mentally active, those things are the best we have today. But come back to me in ten years and we may have something much better.”
One example of that promise is Dr. Austad’s involvement with targeting aging with metformin trials or “TAME.” The 6-year clinical trial of the diabetes drug involves some 3,000 people aged 65-79. The purpose is to see if metformin delays the development or progression of age-related chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and dementia.