The prospect of dying has always fascinated, haunted and, ultimately, defined human beings. From the beginnings of civilization, people have contemplated their own mortality – and considered the possibility of immortality. Indeed, many of humanity’s oldest and best-known stories, from the Sumerian tale of “Gilgamesh” to the Old Testament Book of Genesis to Homer’s “Odyssey,” feature mortality and immortality as prominent themes.
Until recently, however, the possibility of dramatically extending human life has been consigned to the realm of speculation or science fiction. Scientists’ understanding of why people age – and how to stop aging – was not sophisticated enough to hold out hope that life could be extended much beyond traditional old age. But that may be changing.