Rampant Enthusiasm

It has to be said, it's hard not to be enthused by the speed of scientific progress over the past few years. Bioinformatics and its offshoots, coupled with rapidly increasing and ever cheaper processing power, have made an enormous difference to the medical research landscape. Experiments that would have taken years for an entire team of scientists can now be done in days by a single researcher. Tens of thousands of tests can be run in parallel in simulation, looking for interesting clues. The time between breakthroughs is decreasing, and our map of human biochemistry and cellular mechanisms is becoming more clear with each passing month.

Stephen Gorden has caught some of the spirit at the Speculist in the process of reading The Immortal Cell:

Michael West's book, The Immortal Cell, gives me reason to hope for some form of life extension - something less than escape velocity - within the next ten years.

As I have noted before, however, rapid research is one thing (a good thing!). Getting the results turned into a product that is available to you and I is, however, still constrained by regulation, legislation, business cycles and the slow speed of human interaction.

While I think it's possible that we will see the first signs of real anti-aging medicine a decade from now, I don't think that's enough time for anything to become commercially available. Twenty years is a much more realistic timeframe for such items as organs grown to order, reliable stem cell therapies for neurodegenerative disorders, or some form of therapy that improves upon the natural process of calorie restriction.

There is also the matter of a threatened worldwide ban on the technologies that will make this sort of medicine possible. If a hostile, anti-research political environment prevails, we could see research set back by decades. Five years of damage has already been done thanks to US and European politicians.

My general point here is that we cannot get all fired up and assume that these medical wonders will fall in our laps in the near future. It takes hard work and a great deal of money to make these things happen, a truth that is often glossed over. The medicine of the future will only be developed in an environment of widespread public support and high levels of funding. While we are on the way to achieving both for regenerative medicine, we have neither for serious, dedicated anti-aging research.


On the subject of life extension we walk a tightrope. On one side we have people screaming that the entire enterprise is a waste of time and resources.

On the other side are people that seem to expect radical life extension while arrive sometime late this afternoon.

Posted by: Stephen Gordon at April 8th, 2004 9:41 AM
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