Anti-ageing vaccines: fact or fiction?

As a society, we’ve been talking about the idea of living well over the age of 100 in future generations for some time. Some have even suggested life beyond age 200. Such ideas are common in science fiction, but science fact continues to take humans on a path to a longer lifespan. Now, the potential advent of so-called ‘anti-ageing vaccines’ could take us a few steps closer to a long, long life.

Don’t be fooled by the term, though. Anti-ageing vaccines won’t wind the clock back on you Benjamin Button style, making you look younger each year. What they will do though – if successful – is help you live a far healthier life in your later years.

It should be noted that many of these newer vaccines are therapeutic rather than prophylactic. That means they treat (therapeutic) – rather than prevent (prophylactic) – the targeted disease. However, they qualify as vaccines because they stimulate an immune response, which is the primary aim.

What will anti-ageing vaccines do for us?

Notwithstanding a COVID-induced hiccup, those living in Western countries are on an upward curve of life expectancy. And while most would be happy with that trend, they would be hoping those extra years would be healthy ones.

However, there are a bunch of age-related diseases that have other ideas. The thought of being constrained by health conditions such as dementia or cancer for many years is not appealing. So, many of the early attempts at creating anti-ageing vaccines have been aimed at preventing these diseases from appearing.

The term ‘early attempts’ referring to current research is perhaps a little misleading. In fact, a vaccination for cancer was formulated at Johns Hopkins University in Maryland in the early 1980s and the trial achieved notable success. Forty colorectal cancer patients volunteered for the trial, half of whom were given the vaccine.

After more than two years, four of 20 patients in the ‘control’ group (those not given the vaccine) had died, but all 20 in the vaccinated group had survived. The sample size may seem small, but the results were enough to be labelled statistically significant.

Given that success, one might ask why cancer hasn’t been eliminated four decades on. Unfortunately, progress on cancer vaccines has been slow since. Cancer cells are complicated beasts, and treating them is all the more difficult because our own body makes them.

Still, research into vaccines for diseases such as cancer continues, as it does for other anti-ageing vaccines. One of the ‘popular’ diseases among researchers is Alzheimer’s. There are currently six ongoing clinical trials of vaccines against beta-amyloid or tau, the proteins associated with Alzheimer’s.

Given our ageing population and the fact that Alzheimer’s is easily the most common form of dementia, that’s encouraging news. 

How far away are breakthroughs?

That’s a bit of a ‘how long is a piece of string?’ question. After the successful colorectal cancer vaccine trial 40 years ago, many would have been quietly confident of rapid progress. Alas, it was not to be. 

On the other hand, science has progressed significantly since the early 1980s, so a sense of optimism may be warranted. 

And it’s not just cancer and dementia that’s the focus of researchers of anti-ageing vaccines. There are scientists working on vaccines for vascular system diseases and another group looking at vaccination against senescent cells. Senescent cells are cells which have been damaged and ceased dividing. They have been linked to several age-related diseases, meaning a successful vaccine against senescent cells could stop some, if not all of them.

Depending on your age and the progress made by researchers, some of these vaccines might be available in your lifetime. If not, there’s a good chance that the next generation will be able to take advantage of them.

For them, living well beyond 100, perhaps even to 200, will be one step closer. 

Are you keen to live a longer life? Would you be prepared to take part in trials of anti-ageing vaccines? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: Discrimination may accelerate ageing
Healthdisclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Andrew Gigacz
Andrew Gigacz
Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.


  1. As long as I remain healthy and active both physically and mentally I would like to keep living.
    But humans seem to be programmed biologically so that around 120 is our upper limit however healthy we can keep ourselves because we are meant to age and die so newer generations can take over and have a life.
    That is just the way things work in nature, nothing lasts forever.

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