burning candles for 200

Scientists Are Working on Drugs that Kill “Zombie Cells” to Help You Live to 200

That’s a helluva lot of birthday candles.

The average American man can expect to live about 76 years. Many of us would entertain tacking on an extra decade to that number, but one researcher says we could nearly double it.

Andrew Steele, PhD, a British computational biologist, insists that humans could reach 200-years old with no true cap on how long we can actually live. His new book on longevity, Ageless: The New Science of Getting Older Without Getting Old, talks about scientific advances in senolytics—drugs aimed at killing “zombie cells,” or degraded cells that impact tissue function and promote aging. According to Steele, these proposed anti-aging pills are already in development, and could extend human lifespan.

“Studies come out every few years that propose some kind of fundamental limit on human lifespan, but they’re always missing one crucial piece: we’ve never tried treating the aging process before,” Steele told the Daily Mail. “I can’t see physical or biological reason why people couldn’t live to 200— the challenge is whether we can develop the biomedical science to make it possible.”

What Are Zombie Cells?

Zombie cells are a terror-inducing nickname for senescent cells, damaged cells that refuse to die. These damaged cells pile up as we age and lead to inflammation and altered stem cell (cells from which other cells are generated) function.

Steele’s senolytic approach sounds like science fiction but animal studies have shown that senolytics improve age-related conditions including cataracts, diabetes, osteoporosis, Alzheimer’s disease, enlargement of the heart, kidney problems, clogged arteries, and age-related loss of muscle.

The first clinical trial on senolytics in humans, published in The Lancet in 2020, found evidence that senolytics can decrease zombie cells in humans with diabetes, kidney disease, and pulmonary fibrosis (scarring of the lungs) (1).


Can You Live Forever?

Steele isn’t the only researcher convinced science can turn back the clock. Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos has moved into the anti-aging business with a start-up called Alto Labs. The researchers at Alto (including a Nobel Prize winner) are focused on “cellular rejuvenation programming” which they believe can “restore cell health and resilience, with the goal of reversing disease to transform medicine,” according to a January 19 press release.

Other research suggests that cheating death isn’t a pipe dream. A May 2022 study observed 3,800 Italian and 9,800 French individuals who managed to live longer than 105-years old. It found those who passed 110-years old had the same probability of reaching 130 as 20 consecutive coin tosses landing on heads (2).

Another study goes further to suggest people could live to 150-years old after analyzing 70,000 people up to age 85. Participants were judged on their ability to fight disease and push past cognitive impairment and while none of them showed the ability to actually live to 150 currently, the study noted that current medical standards may put a limit on this, although the possibility is true (3).

If this anti-aging research pans out, we all have a lot more birthday candles to blow out.