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Who wants to live forever?Who wants to live forever? - Long life futures

This section explores how science is extending life-spans even further and where this research is taking place.

Key Questions

  • What are the biggest killers in the UK today?
  • What is science doing about old age?
  • Who is helping the fight against age?

Key Concepts

  • Place
  • Human Processes

What are the biggest killers in the UK today?

Causes of death in the UK have changed over time. Until around 50 years ago, one of the major causes of death amongst the adult population was tuberculosis. For children under the age of five, the main cause of death in 1949 was premature birth. Today it is motor vehicle accidents.

Today, the main causes of death for people in the UK are as follows:

Men

  • Heart disease - 20.2%
  • Cerebrovascular diseases - 7.9%
  • Lung cancer - 6.9%
  • Chronic lower respiratory disease - 5.6%
  • Flu/pneumonia - 5%
  • Prostate cancer - 3.7%
  • Colon cancer - 3.1%
  • Lymph cancers - 2.3%
  • Alzheimer's disease/dementia - 2.1%
  • Aortic aneurysm - 2%

Women

  • Heart disease - 16%
  • Cerebrovascular disease - 12.9%
  • Flu/pneumonia - 7.9%
  • Alzheimer's disease/dementia - 5.2%
  • Chronic lower respiratory disease - 5.2%
  • Lung cancer - 4.9%
  • Breast cancer - 4.5%
  • Heart failure - 3%
  • Colon cancer - 2.7%
  • Urinary diseases - 2.5%

What is science doing about old age?

Diseases like smallpox and polio used to kill millions of people in the UK, but scientific developments have resulted in their eradication in the UK. Edward Jenner developed the first vaccination for smallpox in 1796. The disease was officially declared globally eradicated in 1979. The first polio vaccinated came much later, in 1952. This disease was eradicated from the Americas in 1994 and Europe in 2002. It now remains endemic in only four countries: India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. Even the flu vaccine has resulted in a dramatic decrease in the number of deaths from this illness, particularly amongst the elderly.

Charities like the British Heart Foundation and Cancer Research as well as research councils such as the Wellcome Trust and the National Institute for Medical Research fund ongoing scientific investigations to find treatments, cures and vaccines for diseases still prevalent in the UK.

For example, breast cancer rates have increased by over 50% in the UK over the past 20 years, but due to developments in screening for and treating the disease, survival rates are improving. In the 1970s, only 50% of people survived for more than five years after diagnosis. Now it's 80%.

Recently, advances in stem cell therapy in conjunction with gene therapy have created the potential to treat genetically inherited diseases. Scientists think that conditions like Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, stroke, arthritis, diabetes, burns and spinal cord damage have the potential to be treated using stem cell therapy. However, their use in controversial because stem cells are usually taken from lab-created human embryos four or five days old and many people believe that even at such a young age the embryos have a right to life and hence that it is morally wrong to experiment on them.

All of these advances in medical research aim to keep people alive, with the result that they increase life expectancy.

Who is helping the fight against age?

It is no longer just Europe, Japan and North America that lead the way in science and medicine. The economic rise of Asia has meant that countries like South Korea, as well as China and India, are now as likely to make breakthroughs as some of the longer developed countries. South Korea in particular has become associated with stem cell research.

There are a number of reasons suggested for why this is the case:

  • South Koreans don't tend to question the morals of using embryos for research as much as in some other parts of the world
  • South Korean scientists tend to work collectively and collaboratively, sharing their findings
  • Major advances have been made in IVF in South Korea, meaning that many scientists are trained in the intricacies of this related area
    There is a strong work ethic in South Korea and scientists work extremely hard
  • Scientists are revered in South Korea. It is a popular and trendy subject which attracts the best students
  • In 2002 the government funded Stem Cell Research Centre (SCRC) was opened in South Korea
  • Many South Korean women volunteer to donate their eggs for research for free, resulting in a large supply. There is even a waiting list for donations. In the US and UK eggs are paid for

Interactive

Downloads

Links

Dots

Starter

What are the biggest killers in the UK today?

Watch the interactive big killers in the UK.

What are the biggest killers in the world's poorest countries?

Dots

Main

What is science doing about old age?

Take a look at the success of richer nations in stopping polio and smallpox, diseases that used to kill millions.

Now investigate the challenges that lie ahead for richer nations.

Download  and complete the 'Biggest Killers' card sort activity and use the answers sheet to present your answers.

Take one of the top three killers and map it on the what is science doing flowchart.

As we tackle certain conditions, for example heart disease, less lung cancer from smoking, life expectancy is extended to take people into areas of new risk - more people now die from other forms of cancer and contract Alzheimer's, for instance.

How is South Korea helping the fight against age?

It's no longer just Europe, Japan and North America that lead the world in science and medicine. The economic rise of Asia has meant that countries like South Korea, as well as China and India, are now as likely to make breakthroughs as some of the longer-developed nations. South Korea in particular has become associated with stem cell research. Use the stem cell fact sheet to investigate:

  • What are stem cells and why do they matter?
  • Why is South Korea a leading research nation?
  • What are the issues around stem cell research that make it difficult to research in some places?

Dots

Plenary

Could science help us live to be 1,000?

Who wants to live forever? Is it possible? Use the photo stimulus plenary PowerPoint to help you think about this properly.

What are the major disadvantages of more and more people living to very old ages, even if they stay fit and healthy?

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