A number of researchers investigate aging and longevity by show little of the signs of aging until very late life. Some scientists believe that there are benefits that could be mined from the biochemistry of these species and used as the basis for therapies to modestly slow aging in humans by altering the operation of our metabolism. This popular press article looks at this field of research:
Just 30 years after the publication of Moby Dick, a group of Alaskan whalers attempted to tame their own ocean giant. Their target was a male bowhead whale, the second largest mammal on Earth. These whalers were armed with the latest technology, however - a "bomb lance", fired with gunpowder on impact to pierce through the thick whale blubber. Yet it was not enough to conquer the whale. The whale would continue to roam free for another 120 years, until 2007, when a group of Inupiat hunters finally caught the beast. They even found fragments of the original lance still embedded in the whale's blubber.
According to many estimates, these whales live at least 150 years, and perhaps as long as 210. Apart from slightly leathery skin, a bit of excess blubber, and its battle scars, they show remarkably few ill-effects of long life, however. And that has made them of keen interest to doctors studying ageing. "They live a lot longer than human beings, yet they are living in the wild, without going to the doctor or any of the perks of human society. So they must be naturally protected from age-related diseases." By studying these whales and other extraordinarily long-lived creatures, researchers hope we can find new medicines that will similarly slow down the human body's decay and delay death.
"Ageing is a mystery - we know relatively little about it compared other biological processes, and yet it's directly the greatest cause of suffering and death in the modern world. If we could retard it even a little, it would have unprecedented human benefit. This is the most important biological question, because the majority of chronic human diseases are the consequences of ageing. The way biomedical science is organised, it has mostly focused on particular diseases, like cancer, Alzheimer's, or diabetes. But if you delay ageing you could delay the incidence of all these diseases at once. We're not just extending the period of decrepitude. We want 70 year olds with the health of a 50 year old - that's the ultimate goal."