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Scientists say they're close to unlocking the secrets of immortality

People have searched for the secret to everlasting life since ancient times. Now, scientists say they may be close to achieving immortality, or something close to it.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Until very recently, nobody really thought it would be possible to extend a person’s lifespan much beyond a century. Now some scientists are saying that immortality, or something very much like it, might be just around the corner. They say it might even be a possibility for people living today.

Some researchers say it will just be a matter of finding the right button to push so that cells will stop aging. Others believe the right strategy is to grow spare parts – blood vessels, hearts, bones – to take the place of worn-out ones.

“I don’t think there’s any limit,” Aubrey de Grey, a leading longevity researcher, told TODAY’s Michelle Kosinski. “Certainly, there's nothing that would stop people intrinsically from living thousands of years.”

De Grey, a scientist at Cambridge University, believes he may have found the key to unlock our cells’ immortality. He has isolated an enzyme in bacteria that seems to keep them from getting clogged up with the gunk that eventually suffocates them. The hope is that the same strategy will work in human cells.

In America, molecular geneticist Bill Andrews has discovered a supplement that he believes will reprogram cells so that they will live forever. The supplement keeps telomeres from shortening as we age. Scientists believe that when telomeres – the strings of DNA that reside at the end of each chromosome – become shorter, we deteriorate. In theory, if you could stop telomeres from shortening, or better yet, get them to regrow, you would increase lifespan.

“The literature is, I would say, 95 percent certain or better that if we can find ways to lengthen the telomeres, we are going to reverse aging,” Andrews says.

Not everyone is persuaded that aging can be halted. But those who are hot on the trail of immortality are so convinced of the possibility that they’ve already started to think about how longer lifespans could change our daily lives and society as a whole.

Author Sonia Arrison has imagined what this brave new world might look like and described it in a book called “100 Plus: How the Coming Age of Longevity Will Change Everything, From Careers and Relationships to Family and Faith.”

Arrison believes longer lifespans will enable humans to reach their true potential. “Increasing the lifespan will give you new opportunities for experiment and adventure,” she says.

As for Andrews, he says he’s going to find a way to halt aging – or die trying.