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Science

Blood of World's Oldest Woman Hints At Limits of Life 333

Posted by timothy
from the telomere-more-about-this dept.
porkchop_d_clown (39923) writes "When Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper died in 2005, she was the oldest woman in the world. [New Scientist reported Wednesday] that, at the end of her life, most of her white blood cells had been produced by just two stem cells — implying the rest of her blood stem cells had already died, and hinting at a possible limit to the human life span."
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Blood of World's Oldest Woman Hints At Limits of Life

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  • Old News (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 25, 2014 @09:07AM (#46840515)

    Isn't this old news?

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Rob the Bold (788862)

      Isn't this old news?

      I see what you did there.

  • by wiredlogic (135348) on Friday April 25, 2014 @09:09AM (#46840533)

    If this is a critical factor for maintaining longevity it would seem to be a simple task to save up and grow a supply of stem cells when one is younger. The cord blood industry is essentially doing this now.

    • Re:Bank them (Score:5, Insightful)

      by ShanghaiBill (739463) on Friday April 25, 2014 @09:27AM (#46840695)

      If this is a critical factor for maintaining longevity ...

      It is not clear that it is. So far there is ONE data point. Before we start extrapolating, we might want to look at some other old people.

    • Re:Bank them (Score:5, Insightful)

      by briancox2 (2417470) on Friday April 25, 2014 @10:00AM (#46840981) Homepage Journal
      Really? You're trying to solve this "problem"?

      My thought upon reading this story was, "Oh, thank God!!"

      I had been hoping there was a definite end that science could not trick. I was beginning to fear that the medical community was going to try to force any level of existence to continue without regard to quality. Death is a part of life. I'd rather live with that than trying to force a 100 year old body to keep it's heart beating just because some family member doesn't know how to cope any other way.

      Try working in the healthcare field. You'll see that that is the norm. Older patients often would be fine with letting go. But the family falls apart emotionally and pushes for ANY MEANS POSSIBLE to save them. It's pathetic. And it costs our healthcare industry billions that could be spent much better.
      • Re:Bank them (Score:5, Insightful)

        by danbert8 (1024253) on Friday April 25, 2014 @10:05AM (#46841013)

        Sadly it doesn't stop with death too. Many more billions are wasted in the funeral racket. In my family my grandmother is a very simple and humble woman, but her darn kids keep insisting on fancy expensive gravestones and caskets in her end of life planning. It's like, you realize we are just going to throw dirt on this right? And she won't be "comfortable" regardless of how many pillows are in there.

        • Re:Bank them (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 25, 2014 @11:26AM (#46841843)

          The comfort is actually for those who see her into the ground. They're not comfortable if the dead person doesn't look like a fucking piece of art. They call this "respect". They do it out of "respect" for the dead person. And so that the living left behind don't poke their eyes out for the rest of their lives that "this guy had no respect for this mother; he bought the cheapest plywood casket with a pillow made of hay". And if you don't want to move to a different state/country, you comply.

        • Re:Bank them (Score:4, Insightful)

          by mythosaz (572040) on Friday April 25, 2014 @11:58AM (#46842221)

          Make your living wills now.

          Get the funeral (or lack of one) that you want.

          • Make your living wills now.

            Get the funeral (or lack of one) that you want.

            Technically a "Living Will" only applies while you're alive specifying health care directives should you become incapacitated. It terminates when you do. Your "Will" would be the place to specify your funeral wishes.

            People in the US can setup/register and maintain a Living Will at the U.S. Living Will Registry [uslivingwillregistry.com] for a small fee (I think $5) - or free if submitted through a local hospital. You get a registration card for your wallet and the document can be accessed and maintained online.

            My wife had a Li

      • by MightyYar (622222)

        I humbly submit that, being in the healthcare field, you are seeing a higher concentration of misery than exists in the population-at-large. Just like an ER doctor in NY would assume that taxi cabs are the single largest cause of death and injury in the world.

      • Re:Bank them (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ultranova (717540) on Friday April 25, 2014 @10:26AM (#46841229)

        Death is a part of life.

        Death is a part of life. That doesn't mean it's good or shouldn't be fought against. Smallpox used to be a part of life too, and I doubt anyone's life is made worse by not having it around anymore.

        I'd rather live with that than trying to force a 100 year old body to keep it's heart beating just because some family member doesn't know how to cope any other way.

        The idea of longevity research, of course, is to make 100 year old body indistinguishable from a 20 year old body, not merely to "keep the heart beating".

        And it costs our healthcare industry billions that could be spent much better.

        Really? On what, for example?

        • by Kjella (173770)

          The idea of longevity research, of course, is to make 100 year old body indistinguishable from a 20 year old body, not merely to "keep the heart beating".

          That may be the long term ideal, practically though there's very little of significance modern medicine will do until you actually have an injury, disease or organ failure. If you take a reasonably healthy 80 year old to the hospital and say "What can you do to make him more like a 20 year old?" they wouldn't replacing aching bones or an aging heart and lungs and kidneys and liver, nor would they do anything about the poor eyesight, hearing or all the other senses that weaken with age. The primary effect of

        • On making people slightly less miserable for the 99% of their lifespan that's actually worth living. And providing palliative care to people who are dying, so they won't suffer needlessly. Or simply legalizing euthanasia so people can have the freedom to choose to die with dignity.

        • Re:Bank them (Score:5, Insightful)

          by mythosaz (572040) on Friday April 25, 2014 @11:59AM (#46842233)

          Death is a part of life.

          Death is a part of life.

          ...for 93% of us.

          With 7 billion people on the planet, and only 100 billion of us having ever lived, only 93% of us have died.

          As part of the 7%, I'm keeping my hopes high.

      • by Chelloveck (14643) on Friday April 25, 2014 @10:30AM (#46841251) Homepage

        I had been hoping there was a definite end that science could not trick.

        Nah, science has just identified the thing that needs to be tricked. We just need fresh stem cells. I, for one, am going to assure that I get a steady supply of stem cells by eating a baby for breakfast each morning.

        • I, for one, am going to assure that I get a steady supply of stem cells by eating a baby for breakfast each morning.

          I eat Little Debbies for breakfast. Not quite babies, but similarly soft n squishy inside. I'll prolly live forever.

        • by ag0ny (59629)

          I, for one, am going to assure that I get a steady supply of stem cells by eating a baby for breakfast each morning.

          Won't work. These would have your same ADN.

          You can, however, create clones of yourself and eat one of THOSE babies every day. That should do the trick.

      • Re:Bank them (Score:4, Insightful)

        by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Friday April 25, 2014 @10:30AM (#46841257)

        I'd rather live with that than trying to force a 100 year old body to keep it's heart beating just because some family member doesn't know how to cope any other way.

        False dichotomy. If we manage one day to make 100 year old bodies to be more like today's 60 year old bodies, you'll have a different option.

        • by phorm (591458)

          I'd be more concerned about the brain, myself. No good having even a 30-year-old's body at 100 if you've gone back to the brain of a 2-year-old...

        • by eggstasy (458692) on Friday April 25, 2014 @11:56AM (#46842211) Journal

          There will be no point to having a "youthful" old age if we will still become more conservative as we grow old, and in our misguided attempts to stay relevant, end up preventing the world from changing, just to keep things familiar.

      • by Soluzar (1957050)
        It would be interesting to see if your views change on by the 11th month of your 99th year. Assuming you survive that long.
      • Re:Bank them (Score:4, Insightful)

        by tmosley (996283) on Friday April 25, 2014 @10:56AM (#46841527)
        Funny how reactionaries always seem to think of life extension as living a long time as an old person rather than living a long time as a young person.

        Such is life in idiocratic paradise.
      • Re:Bank them (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Intrepid imaginaut (1970940) on Friday April 25, 2014 @10:58AM (#46841549)

        I had been hoping there was a definite end that science could not trick.

        There isn't. Our bodies are machines, no more no less, and ultimately science will solve every riddle they pose. Soon, fifty or a hundred years from now, the first immortals will be born. Who knows, perhaps they already have been.

        • Re:Bank them (Score:4, Insightful)

          by T.E.D. (34228) on Friday April 25, 2014 @01:35PM (#46843191)

          , fifty or a hundred years from now, the first immortals will be born.

          That would, IMHO, be an utter disaster for mankind. Human beings are really good at learning what their world is like when they are children, because they are more or less starting from scratch. What they absolutely suck at is adapting to change after they've figured all that out. We form our opinions and view of the world when we are growing up. We can see then with (relatively) unclouded eyes the way things are, and even reason out the way we think things ought to be. But that becomes relatively set. This is why Max Plank remarked:

          A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.

          It isn't just science either, it's pretty much every realm of human thought. I was born into a society (1967) where it was accepted that black people should be kept away from white people, women were inferior to men in every way and belonged in the home, and "gay" was not a state of being, but a repulsive activity that needed to be suppressed at all costs. Its true that lot of people's minds changed since then, but by and large what happened is that the old folks who felt strongest about society staying that way died . Social conservatism is far more prominent with older people at pretty much every level you check.

          While I'd like to think that all that was wrong with the 70's is gone from me, the fact is its all still lurking down in my head, because that's the world I was born into. The best I can hope for to personally advance society is to raise my own kids without my prejudices, and then when its just me left that remembers the early 70's I can die and all that horrible shit will die with me.

          Anyone trying to "fix" this is an active threat to humanity.

      • by Valdrax (32670)

        My thought upon reading this story was, "Oh, thank God!!"

        I had been hoping there was a definite end that science could not trick. I was beginning to fear that the medical community was going to try to force any level of existence to continue without regard to quality. Death is a part of life. I'd rather live with that than trying to force a 100 year old body to keep it's heart beating just because some family member doesn't know how to cope any other way.

        That is a view and a choice that I can respect, but why should you cheer the possibility that no one be able to choose any other way? That those who want more life be denied it?

        Like a lot of the elderly people you mention, I think I too would choose death over prolonged suffering, helplessness, and a lack of ability to accomplish much more than running the bills up for my family. But I don't think I would choose death until that was all I had to look forward to, and I would be happy for any medical advanc

      • by mythosaz (572040)

        What are are we allowed to live to? 30? Logan's Run for us?

      • There are plenty of species which live longer than humans.

        Sure- death is part of life but if you could stretch your healthy years out 30 years, wouldn't that be a good thing?

      • Re:Bank them (Score:4, Interesting)

        by cusco (717999) <brian@bixby.gmail@com> on Friday April 25, 2014 @12:58PM (#46842835)

        My grandfather just celebrated his 95th birthday, and my co-worker said, "I hope I get to be that age some day!" I replied that I surely did **NOT** want to ever arrive at that age, and he looked at me befuddled.

        I asked, "Do you know any 95 year-olds?" No, he didn't. "Think about his life. All his friends are dead. All his brothers and sisters are dead. His kids are in their 70s and due to die soon. He can't drive. He can't walk without a walker. His breakfast is made up of more pills by volume than toast. He can't see well, and his hearing is worse even when he wears his hearing aids. He hasn't been laid in 30 years and never will be again. Pain is a constant and has been for years. He hasn't had a drink of wine in over a decade. He hasn't been able to travel since 1997. What kind of life is that?"

        Mohamed was rather quiet for quite some time after that.

  • She was 115 (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 25, 2014 @09:10AM (#46840553)

    Since the summary didn't mention it, and I'm sure others were wondering.

    • Re:She was 115 (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Rob the Bold (788862) on Friday April 25, 2014 @09:45AM (#46840861)

      Since the summary didn't mention it, and I'm sure others were wondering.

      Ya. That first sentence could have been written: "When Hendrikje van Andel-Schipper died in 2005 at age 115, she was the oldest woman in the world."

      Typing another 10 characters wouldn't have killed the submitter. And it would've spared many Slashdotters from puzzling through a tedious run-on sentence in the Wikipedia article.

  • Through science, humans excel at overcoming limits. I'm sure the limit to life for a standard human involves a lot more factors, but this gives us one significant wall to smash down.
  • Not an upper limit (Score:5, Informative)

    by Ambassador Kosh (18352) on Friday April 25, 2014 @09:17AM (#46840625)

    If you live long enough most of your cells end up dieing or critically damaged by the formation of inclusion bodies caused from misfolded proteins. As far as we can tell the cells are otherwise fine they are just slowly accumulating that damage over time. This is also what alzheimer's is. The problem is that misfolded proteins are kind of contagious to other proteins in the cell and that is what leads to the inclusion bodies.

    We are making progress though on being able to clean out the inclusion bodies. Your cells do have the ability to take them apart but somehow they end up not doing it. Give us some time though and we will fix this problem also and clean out these inclusion bodies in all of your cells and then your cells will work much better.

    The other issue we need to fix is activating telomerase to extend our telomeres. The basic issue is that natural selection does not really select for anything after reproductive age so humans are filled with a bunch of small defects and we are getting better at repairing the damage. I really look forward to what can be done with CRISPR-CAS9 to repair DNA damage and replaced damaged genes.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 25, 2014 @09:28AM (#46840709)
      Look, if you know what you're talking about, I'm not sure you fit in here....
      • by Kjella (173770)

        He's just here as a Vorlon observer, being a smart ass is part of the job but he needs to work on being more cryptic. Oh and if we actually discover the formula for immortality, duck before the fireworks start.

        • by Kinthelt (96845)

          Knowing is a three-edged sword.

        • Glad to know that I'm not the only one who is really scared by the Vorlon talking about biological modifications. After all, it worked out so well last time.
    • by rasmusbr (2186518)

      Meh, I know an easier way. Saw it on television. You find one of these pale coldish people and have them bite you.

      There is a major side effect, but if you're a true /. person you'll hardly ever notice...

    • by Zorpheus (857617)
      There must be mechanisms that can stop all these age-related degradations. Otherwise oocytes would get older with each generation of humans.
      • Well they get a mix of DNA to make a new person.
        After the egg gets fertilized, it gains a new unique genetic structure to both the parents. So in essence it is new again.

  • Strange conclusion (Score:5, Insightful)

    by geogob (569250) on Friday April 25, 2014 @09:25AM (#46840679)

    I find the conclusion that there is an absolute limit to the human life span because at some point the stem cells producing white blood cell all die out quite strange.

    A few centuries ago, we could have concluded that there is an absolute limit to human life span because at some point someone can't eat anymore while he lost all his teeth. Any similar logical train of though could lead to the same conclusion.

    And now, what if you find out why the cells die and manage to prevent it? Then the next thing that kills us will limit our life span, until we find out how to fix that as well. Absolute limits are difficult to set.

    • by operagost (62405) on Friday April 25, 2014 @09:29AM (#46840717) Homepage Journal
      I'm going to get ahead of the game and work on that "heat death of the universe" limit.
      • by Qzukk (229616)

        Multivac is on it.

      • by kasperd (592156)

        I'm going to get ahead of the game and work on that "heat death of the universe" limit.

        Yeah, we need to find a workaround for that limitation sooner or later. If we don't, it will be the end of mankind. We do have a few other challenges to work on before that though. It would suck to find a solution to the death of the universe only to have life on Earth wiped out be a meteor before the other solution could be implemented.

    • I like your argument and agree with your conclusions, but dentures are millennia old at least. http://www.sciencemuseum.org.u... [sciencemuseum.org.uk]

    • Even a few century ago you could live without teeth so your analogy isn't even good. I have no idea where you got that. I never heard also anybody pretending that. But ever tried to live without any blood white cell whatsoever ? You can't. The environment fungi, bacteria, virus, and even your own bacteria will kill you. Quickly. in short order. Why do you think "bubble baby" need to be utterly separated from their environment baring grafts ? Why do you think people with AIDS dies ? That's not the HIV which
    • A limit need not be absolutely unbreakable to be a limit like the speed of light in a vacuum. With your example, losing one's teeth WAS a limit on lifespan. It's no longer a limit though because we navigated past it. TFA is saying one of the next limits may be running out of stem cells. No one is saying you can't possibly replenish stem cells.
    • Yes, they might of came up with different reasons, but the absolute maximum age has been constant for all of recorded history. The ancient Egyptians might not of known about stem cells but they topped out at a few years over 100 just like the rest of us (though I am sure a more of their hundred year olds were eating paste in the end).

    • by DVega (211997) on Friday April 25, 2014 @11:31AM (#46841909)

      A few centuries ago, we could have concluded that there is an absolute limit to human life span because at some point someone can't eat anymore while he lost all his teeth.

      Do you know about soup?

  • by IgnitusBoyone (840214) on Friday April 25, 2014 @09:32AM (#46840741)

    Who dares to love forever,
    When love must die.

    ---Queen

  • by Ogive17 (691899) on Friday April 25, 2014 @09:36AM (#46840787)
    I don't know about how anyone else feels but I do not necessarily want long life unless I can maintain my youthfulness. I'm 34 now and still stay active but obviously my body is already on the decline (comparing myself to myself at age 24). I do not expect to stay in peak condition when I'm age 80.. but I also don't want to live 40 more years if I have to rely on someone else to do standard tasks
    • by Xoltri (1052470)
      You know, it is possible to be in better shape at 34 than you were at 24...
      • Correct. At 47, I'm in better shape than I was at 27. Avoid sugar and alcohol, keep carbs to a minimum, and get some exercise, and you can feel great even in your 60s. Much of our decline over time is just due to self-destructive behavior. If you're inactive and eat poorly, you're going to have a bad time.
      • by Ogive17 (691899)
        You totally missed the point. Sure, medicine can extend my life, advances have been doing that for centuries.

        Just because medicine can keep my body alive an additional 20 years does not mean I would welcome that if my mind is gone or if my joints are all shot or if I have to rely on a mountain of daily pills or therapy to get going. I look at it as a Quality vs Quantity of life.

        Of course I want to live a long time and experience many things. I will do what I can to extend this to the point where I c
      • Today is my 32nd birthday and I'm in better shape than at any other point in my life.

        That's more an indication of how out of shape I was in my earlier life than anything else though.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 25, 2014 @10:38AM (#46841331)

    Genesis 6:3 says in the New Living Translation:

    Then the LORD said, "My Spirit will not put up with humans for such a long time, for they are only mortal flesh. In the future, their normal lifespan will be no more than 120 years."

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Friday April 25, 2014 @12:12PM (#46842399) Homepage

    It seems that if they can figure out how to reduce or stop the "stem cell exhaustion" then you probably could significantly extend a persons lifespan, problem is you need to do it early in life. the old rich guy will be too late, he will stay old rich guy. But start with a newborn and suddenly things change. if you can even reduce the exhaustion rate by a tiny 20% at birth, you are looking at a 20 year lifespan extension from a 100 year life, not a lot but the benefits would be throughout the life. the no longer healing as well when you hit 35, the feeling not as fast when you hit 40... etc.. Imagine the regenerative abilities you had as a kid, deep nasty cut healed within days, at 45 a deep nasty cut heals in a few weeks. extending the super healing of the body from stopping in the teens to stopping in the late 20's would be remarkable.

    And that is if you only find a way to slow the burnout, if you found a way to have stem cells regenerate themselves, I dont think you found immortality, but you would have 70 year olds with the body of 40 year olds but with 30 years more wisdom.

    My question is what new diseases will we discover? I am sure there are things lurking that we call harmless, but maybe have a 70 year gestation period....

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