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Published: Monday, 12/26/2005

Want to live to be 1,000? Some think we could

The first person to live to age 1,000 probably will turn 60 in 2006. Within 20 years or so, we'll have treatments for aging. Medicine will repair the damage that already has occurred in people who are in their 80s. They'll live on and on with healthy bodies and sharp minds.

Medicine also will keep younger people from aging and getting frail and decrepit. By 2026, people will look forward to an average lifespan of a few thousand years. People will still die, but mainly from accidents - without the downward spiral into debility and dependence.

Sound like hype and junk science?

That's exactly how most experts on human aging describe a fledgling new scientific faction sometimes called the "immortalist movement."

The immortalists argue that aging can be prevented and treated, just like medicine deals with other health problems.

Cambridge University's Aubrey de Grey, one of the leaders, claims it will happen in time for some people alive today. Much of the scientific knowledge, he argues, is already available. And de Grey has mapped out a project, Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (http://www.gen.cam.ac.uk/sens/) to treat and cure aging.

The immortalists organized the Methuselah Foundation to encourage medical research on the topic. The foundation itself is doing so with the Methuselah Mouse Prize (www.mprize.org) the world's first scientific prize for research on extending longevity.

Mice, so like people genetically, are the test tubes on four feet for preventing and treating aging. The immortalists hope to develop an immortal mouse within 10 years, and extend the technology to humans within another 10 years.

Some of the visionaries behind the X-Prize (which fostered the first private space flight) have signed on. The X Prize Foundation has donated $500,000 toward the Methuselah Mouse Prize, with much more reportedly in the pipeline.

Mainstream experts on aging say we are getting better at enabling people to live longer. The life expectancy of a child born in 1900 was 47 years. Children born in 2006 can look forward to an average of 78 years. Further increases, they say, will be small and slow in arriving - with life expectancy increasing by maybe six years by 2050.

Nevertheless, the immortalists are organizing conferences, raising public awareness about the possibilities that lie ahead, getting media coverage, and recruiting wealthy donors to fund research.

One of the immortalists, Futurologist Ray Kurzweil, has a New Year's resolution message that will be a winner no matter which side proves correct. Mr. Kurzweil foresaw the Internet's importance in the 1980s and won the National Medal of Technology for a slew of computer-related inventions.

The first step toward those 1,000 years, he says, is to use all the medical knowledge available today to stay alive and healthy so the future can happen to you.

Start by getting a complete medical checkup. Then take the doctor's advice on treatments and changes in your lifestyle. Then stick with them for life.

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