The oldest human cells?

Fifty years ago, a Norwegian man named Bernt Aune received a cornea transplant from a man born in 1885. Today, Mr. Aune is 80. His cornea works works fine. It is 123 years old.

For details, see this. Somehow those cells did not degrade with age, as one might expect. Some think this phenomenon, should we come to understand it, could be a key to stopping aging. Good idea? Or a futile attempt at eternal life on our terms?

HT: Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit.

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  • It proves that lutefisk is good for your eyes.

  • WebMonk

    “Stopping aging”??? Not exactly. They think that learning how cells, like those in tortoises which routinely live over a 100 years, can remain vital for longer. I can’t see anyone even coming close to mentioning eternal life.

    But, to launch into my own pontification – I don’t see any ultimate barriers to living to 150 or 200. I see stem cell research leading toward extended lifespans in the relatively near future. There are already experiments with injecting massive amounts of raw stem cells into people. It’s a really crude method, but it seems to have some good results.

    Give it another 50 years of research, and I can’t see any particular reason that some refined applications can’t expand a lifespan another 50 years.

    I think the biggest challenge is going to be in affecting neurological tissue – it can degrade too, and seems to be much less responsive to stem cell treatment than other types of tissue. Heart, Lungs, Muscles, Liver, Kidneys, etc all seem to respond pretty well, but not so much nerves. We’ll see.

    It’ll be expensive as all get out though, so widespread application won’t be happening until many decades after it starts getting used in first-world medical treatments.

  • Bryan Lindemood

    When Christ comes all this will be solved anyway … on His terms.

  • Don S

    Glenn Reynolds is passionately interested in this type of research, and implies in some of his posts and articles that he truly believes that death is a disease which can be eradicated. Of course, for him, given his secular humanist outlook, this thin reed is his only hope for immortality.

    I don’t think this story is that remarkable. The oldest known living human was born in the 1890’s, so there is other living human tissue, in an entire bodily system, which is close to the same age. Typically, when we die a natural death, it is because of the failure of one of our systems, not the entire body. Often, it is a circulatory system degradation which causes other health problems to crop up. In this case, the cornea of a 70 year old man was transplanted into a 30 year old man, and thus was rejuvenated by the blood flow of a young, healthy, circulatory system.

    I see no reason why average lifespans cannot increase marginally with improved health care options, nutrition, and the like, but there are unknown biological limits.

    If it turns out that we can reach 150 or 200 years of age, as Webmonk suggests could be possible, we will, finally, have to raise the age for Social Security eligibility, won’t we? 🙂

  • Brings to mind HeLa cancer cells. They are cancer cells that were taking from a cancer patient who died in 1951. The cells are said to be “immortal”. Some people also see this as an example of dramatic evolution, from human to clumps of cancer cells.

  • WebMonk

    Well, HeLa cells are immortal as far as we can tell. Barring accidents, they’ll be around for another 1000 years. Actually, if the contamination that Gold writes of is true, it would take a heck of an ‘accident’ to truly wipe them out.

    Anyway, I got a kick out of HeLa when I first heard of it, and still think it’s pretty cool. Obviously not ‘evolution’ in any particularly useful sense of the word, but still very cool.

    Understanding telomerase could be a major breakthrough in human lifespan. HeLa isn’t the best approach to that (IMHO), but it certainly is cool.