8 May 1999

Seeing the Next Millennium... and Beyond

Most of us will not only live to see the new millennium, but the year 2100 too, according to a clinical Professor of medicine at Michigan State University. If Dr. Michael Fossel is right, most of us will not see the start of the new millennium, but we may live long enough to welcome in the year 2100 as well.

Fossel, a clinical professor of medicine at Michigan State University, is convinced that sometime during this next millennium, biomedical research will make such incredible advances that people's life spans could reach as high as 200 years. But does that confidence convince the rest of us? Should government immediately begin to plan for generations of 100-plus year old citizens?

Fossel, the editor of the Journal of Anti-Aging Medicine and author of Reversing Human Aging, says maladies such as cancer and heart disease will be conquered in the not-too-distant future. He did not, however, outline exactly why he was so confident that diseases that have baffled medical science for so long would, or even could, be cured.

"Doctors have known for years that as we age, our genes down-regulate, weaken and turn off our defense mechanisms, leaving us more vulnerable to disease," he says. "However, until now, doctors have known little about what the clock was and how it is directly responsible for the aging process."

The key, he says, lies in a tiny bit of molecular material called a telomere. Located at the tip of every chromosome, the telomere is our biological clock, the timekeeper that ticks inside each human cell, telling it when to get old.

As we age, most telemores shrink and eventually die, killing the cell. Learning to lengthen the telemores, essentially re-setting our biological clock, will have an impact on heart disease, Alzheimer's disease, and other illnesses.

Cancer, however, is a different beast. Because cancer cells tend to proliferate out of control, the key there is shortening the telemores. This would seem to contradict Fossel's theory.

Thankfully, research in both areas is continuing.