Of all the challenges facing humans today—climate change, housing shortages, and a dearth of those willing to care for the aging U.S. baby boomer population among them—the last thing we need is longer, perhaps indefinite lifespans. Though it would seem scientists disagree and are experimenting with the possibility of making human life as long as it is tedious by adding two more years of sand to the hourglasses of a few test subjects.
A recent study led by geneticist Steve Horvath at the University of California tested the effects of a combination of nine common drugs on a small sample of white men between the ages of 51 and 65. The trial was originally aimed at evaluating the safety and efficacy of “using growth hormone to restore tissue in the thymus gland,” according to Newsweek. Instead, what they found was that subjects’ genetic clocks were actually pushed back by about two and a half years over the course of the study:
“During the treatment period, researchers took regular blood samples from participants. Consistent testing revealed that each of the patients had rejuvenated blood-cell counts during and after the study. In seven of the nine patients, the study also found that built-up fat had been replaced with regenerated thymus tissue. After the study had finished and those results were in, Horvath analyzed the patients’ biological markers, determining that standard indicators of aging had not merely slowed, but reversed.”
As is the case in every story featuring a scientist who has doomed mankind, initial reactions to the discovery are disbelief then triumph: “I’d expected to see slowing down of the clock, but not a reversal,” Horvath told the scientific journal Nature. “That felt kind of futuristic.”
Since the sample size was small and limited to white men, other scientists say it’s difficult to draw conclusions, which I am taking as a subtle urge to curb this hubris before it’s too late. But that, as we all know, is not how this story works. “Because we could follow the changes within each individual, and because the effect was so very strong in each of them, I am optimistic,” Horvath added, foreshadowing the montage of horrors certain to follow.
And now all that remains is to wait, tensely, for the point near the end of act two in which we find an older, wizened future Horvath explaining from a bunker that he could not have foreseen the easily foreseeable consequences of his actions.