Fighting the Conditions of Aging As Well As Aging Itself

We need a war on aging to understand and defeat the aging process itself, to develop medicine to prevent and treat whatever the underlying causes of aging turn out to be. However, we must also continue to fight the conditions of aging. Even if we manage to treat, prevent or somehow safely disable the degenerative parts of the aging process, we can still be killed by medical conditions.

As an aside, this is not to say that there is a sharp dividing line between medical conditions and aging. In fact, we could argue that what is currently called "natural aging" or "normal aging" is just an expression of the limits of our knowledge regarding diseases and conditions. After all, "normal aging" is a concept that changes over time. Before Alzheimer's was understood to be a condition, its dreadful symptoms were regarded as a part of normal aging. Before osteoporosis (age-related bone loss) was identified as a condition, loss of bone strength was also regarded as a part of normal aging.

Medical scientists identify new age-related conditions every year. Just this month, a major new degenerative neurological condition was discovered that affects men over the age of 50. Its symptoms have been misdiagnosed as "natural aging" or Alzheimer's up until this point.

Genetic Screening Recommended For New Neurological Disease

So it may be that when we are chalking up illness and loss of capability to natural aging, we are referring to a collection of currently unknown diseases and medical conditions that will one day be identified, preventable and treatable. This theory was most recently put forward by a pair of European researchers:

Ill or just old? Towards a conceptual framework of the relation between ageing and disease

As a further aside, there is a large downside to the concept of "natural aging," entirely related to funding for medical research. Funding for aging studies is miniscule compared to funding assigned to beat any well known, identified disease or condition. Thus, the research that could identify all remaining unknown age-related conditions languishes. We can lay a fair amount of the blame here at the feet of the FDA in the US: the FDA refuses to classify aging as a disease, and will thus not approve any potential treatment. If the FDA will not approve it, then the initial funding for research will not be forthcoming - FDA approval is very necessary for any eventual profit from such research.

SAGE Crossroads just recently posted the transcript of a webcast discussion on this very topic, which I think most of you will find a good read.

But let's get back to the point.

I advocate a massive increase in funding for aging and real anti-aging research, with an eye to identifying a cure for aging. It may be that this results in the categorization of aging into any number of separate medical conditions, with no underlying "aging process," or it may not. Either way, the fight against aging does not mean neglecting the fight against cancer, diabetes, heart disease or Alzheimer's. Longer, healthier lives will require us to beat not only the aging process (if there is such a thing), but also all of these conditions - which modern science can accomplish, with enough funding.

Many of these conditions are related to aging in some way, which is also a good incentive for research. For example, researchers are just beginning to uncover intricate biochemical and genetic relationships between aging and cancer. The same sorts of intricacy can be expected in all of the "age-related" conditions; something has to explain why old people are far more susceptible. This sort of information lays the groundwork for later research into therapies and cures, and sheds more light onto the process of aging itself.

So full speed ahead with cancer research, I say. Let's find a cure for aging and fix all of these horrible conditions that plague mankind: it could all be done for far less money than most of the industrialized nations spend on weaponary and electing leaders.


Is it possible to have five leaders in the anti-aging movement list what they are currently doing and consuming in their quest to retard aging? I would like to bring myself up-to-date on what current thinking is.

Posted by: Barnaby Dickson at February 9th, 2004 1:45 AM

Interesting idea, and I'm sure it's been done already - just a question of finding out where, when, and whether it's time to do it again.

"Doing" is far more important than "consuming" for long term future health - consider it the difference between building a better engine for your car versus taking better care of the present engine. Obviously taking better care of the engine is a good thing, but it'll only prolong the engine life span so far no matter how much time and effort you spend on it.

Current thinking amongst the people I know of appears to be some amalgam of:

1) Mobilize aging science; science is a supertanker, taking years to make course (and funding priority) changes. Aubrey de Grey works on this, as do a number of other prominent scientists.

2) Squash the fraudulent anti-aging marketplace. Some scientists are putting a lot of effort into this, as it has come to the point of badly damaging the prospects for funding of real anti-aging science.

3) Squash anti-research politicians and legislation. John Sperling has this on his agenda, as do the folks at CAMR.

4) Full steam ahead with stem cell based regenerative medicine. This looks likely to provide near term therapies that will extend healthy lifespan through repairing age-related damage.

5) Full steam ahead with the proteinomics, bioinformatics and genomics. The tools and their capabilities are advancing at an amazing rate, in leaps and bounds. Scientists are able to do in weeks now what would have taken years in 1999. Almost all of the interesting advances in recent years stem from the use of these new tools.

6) Nanomedicine is set to pick up where regenerative medicine leaves off in terms of extending healthy lifespan, but that is a way away.

7) Building an industry to turn research into products. John Sperling, BioMarker Pharmaceuticals, Elixir Pharmaceuticals, Geron, Advanced Cell Technology, etc, etc. There's a lot of money pouring into the fundamentals at the moment, the tool-builders, both in regenerative and stem cell science and in nanotechnology.

8) Insofar as the here and now goes, the best way to keep yourself healthy and long-lived is still undeniably calorie restriction. No competitors on the horizon yet, despite claims for the latest round of super-supplements - to be treated with skepticism until sound science backs their claims up.

So as you can see, funnily enough, the answer is probably to keep doing the same thing you have been doing in your own healthy and lifestyle practices. If you're interested in it, you were probably already aware of calorie restriction.

However, advances in medical science and the politics and social battles surrounding them are demonstrating the increasing need for widespread support. The science can move very fast now if it has the funding and the support.

The future of healthy life extension increasingly looks to be one in which the science is well in hand, and the real battle is to get the necessary funding, stop anti-research legislation, and get internal scientific politics sorted out - in other words, it's the will, not the technological obstacles.

Founder, Longevity Meme

Posted by: Reason at February 9th, 2004 2:12 AM

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