Financial TimesFinancial Times

Can we defeat death?

By Anjana Ahuja

29 Oct 2021 · 11 min read

The three teenagers called it the Gilgamesh project, after the epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia in which the eponymous king searches for the secret of eternal life. Nearly 40 years ago, growing up in Germany, Steve Horvath, his twin brother Markus and their friend Jörg Zimmerman pledged to dedicate their careers to extending human lifespans. “I’ve always felt that human life is too short,” says Steve, now 54 and a geneticist at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Markus became a psychiatrist and Jörg a researcher into artificial intelligence (AI). Steve stayed truest to the cause, developing a technique to measure the biological age of cells. The Horvath clock, a widely used biomarker of ageing, is one of a series of discoveries over the past two decades that are invigorating the science of life extension. Biologists have found ways of reprogramming old cells to make them young again, using these techniques to help restore sight to ageing mice; one company is chasing longevity by rejuvenating the immune system, an intervention designed to fend off diseases such as Covid-19 that prey on older, weakened bodies.

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