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How Long Can We Live?

Scientists have long reassured us that, with the new advances in nutrition and medicine, we should all be able to live to be 100.

But now researchers who have analyzed the death trends between 1985 and 1995 say that even for people born 80 years from now, the average life expectancy will only be 85.

"Everyone alive today will be long dead before life expectancy at birth of 100 is achieved-if it ever is," says Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois. "No technologies exist today that would permit us to increase life expectancy to 100 or even 120, as has been claimed."

Leonard Hayflick, an expert on aging at the University of California, says, "I agree that the outrageous claims made by uniformed people in this field for superlongevity in the future are simply not possible.

"If you eliminated all causes of death on death certificates today, you would increase life expectation by 15 years," he says. "Virtually all the research in aging is research on the diseases of old age, the resolution of which will not provide immortality."

But Kaare Christensen of the University of Southern Denmark says the maximum human lifespan is still increasing. "The key question is how long this is going to continue. No one knows-but we're pushing the limit now."

"The fundamental question is why are old cells more vulnerable to pathology [attack by disease] than young cells," says Hayflick.

One great hope for increased longevity has been the transplanting of animal organs into humans, which would end the problem of organ shortages. Many people die while waiting for available human organs. More than 6,700 peoplein the U.K. were waiting for organ transplants at the end of 1999, and 5,500 were still waiting at the end of 2000. But researchers are saying that animal transplants may be too risky.

A new report says that "the likelihood of whole-organ xenotransplantation being available with in a clinically worthwhile time frame may be starting to recede."

"It's no nearer than when we started three or four years ago," says John Dark, a professor of surgery at the University of Newcastle.

Rejection of animal organs is the main problem, and animal studies have not even proven that animal organs are capable of sustaining life in humans.

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