There is a forking of the way in aging research, and it matters greatly which path comes to dominate: whether the mainstream (a) continues as in the past, ignoring all mention of engineered longevity and doing nothing more than investigating aging, (b) focuses on limited ways to slow aging, largely in the name of compression of morbidity while trying to minimize talk of extended life spans, or (c) works on ways to reverse and repair the root causes of aging, with the explicit goal of extending healthy and maximum human life spans.
Of these options only (c) will greatly help those of us who will need ways to repair the damage caused by aging a few decades from now. Ways to slow aging do little for people who are already old. Unfortunately very little of the research community is presently interested in or working on repair of the root causes of aging - though that faction is larger today than in the past, thanks to persistent advocacy and organizations like the Methuselah Foundation and SENS Foundation.
This article shows us what failure will look like: what the end goal will be some decades from now if the "only work to slow aging" and "don't talk about extending life" factions continue to dominate the research community:
Dame Linda Partridge, a geneticist at University College London, claimed drugs will soon be available which can lower the risk of diseases like cancer and dementia by tackling the root cause - age itself. Rather than promising immortality, taking the drugs from middle age or earlier could dramatically shorten the period of illness and frailty that we typically experience before we die.
Speaking at the EMBO life sciences meeting in Nice, France this week Dame Linda said several existing drugs have already been shown to have unexpected and welcome side effects, such as aspirin which reduces the risk of cancer. Other therapies will be produced that mimic the effects of a severely restricted diet, which animal studies suggest can protect against a host of age-related conditions including heart disease and diabetes, she said.
Speaking after her keynote lecture, she said: "One obvious approach in trying to deal with the very rapidly increasing incidence of age related diseases is to tackle the underlying aging process itself, because it is the major risk factor. What we want is, rather than a lingering period of ill health, to have a fairly sudden death when it comes. We are not talking about immortality, we are trying to get rid of that period of ill health that people get towards the end of their lives, to hold off age related disease for longer."