Lifespan: what we don’t know

Is the human life expectancy 115 years?

An article on Reuters argues that 115 is the target maximum age.  The argument is that — while science has extended human life — humans accumulate damage with age and that damage curtails the total length of life that is possible.  While one person has lived to age 122, she is the exception.  Others fail by around age 115.

To paraphrase in my usual blunt fashion:  We haven’t seen anyone go much beyond 115, so it can’t be possible to live much longer than that.

OK, man wasn’t meant to fly.  Nobody drove a gas-powered car before 1886, either.

The key question is: what are the limits to what we can manufacture, either from stem cells or through 3D printing?

What’s been created to date:

  • Fingers
  • Ears
  • Esophagus (for a child)
  • Knee cartilage
  • Blood vessels
  • Tear ducts

What’s under development:

  • Heart valves
  • Lungs
  • Livers
  • Kidneys
  • Bladders

For obscure reasons, two of the five research centers leading the charge in regenerative medicine are in Pittsburgh:

  • Carnegie Mellon
  • University of Pittsburgh, McGowan Center
  • Kyoto University
  • Georgia Tech
  • University of Washington

What is the implication of regenerative medicine for life expectancy?  The premise of the Reuters article is that any improvement in one area is cancelled out by a problem in another.  Maybe that’s true, maybe not.

The practical problem from this discussion is that most retirement plans are based on a life expectancy of 90 years or less.

Surprise!  You really can outlive your money.


(1) Dunham, Will, “Ripe old age: Humans may already have reached maximum lifespan,” Reuters, 5 October 2016.

(2) Reilly, Rachel, “The remarkable images that show how scientists are now able to PRINT entire body parts such as ears and noses,” Daily Mail, 17 June 2013.


(4) Weller, Chris, “Scientists Use Stem Cells To Grow Body Parts In Their Lab, Including Noses, Ears, And Tear Ducts,” Medical Daily, 8 April 2014.

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