Commenting on Metabolic Tinkering, Longevity Genes

Over at the Gerontology Research Group mailing list, Robert Bradbury has drawn a strongly phrased line in the sand. It happens to reflect some of my feelings on research aimed at slowing the rate of aging through metabolic tinkering (such as the calorie restriction / SIR2 / SIRT1 work on this month's Scientific American cover).

The point which often goes undiscussed by the CR folks, most biogerontologists, longevity gene fans (including people such as Sinclair and Guarente who are really studying the mechanisms by which CR works), centenarian researchers, most "anti-aging" physicians, etc. is that with these approaches the animals (and people) WILL STILL AGE and WILL STILL DIE! This approach does nothing but slow down the rate of aging -- it does not stop it or reverse it.

There is in effect a massive "con game" going on along the lines of "I agree not to discuss the man behind the curtain if you will not discuss him either." This is what generates much of the resistance to [biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey]'s ideas. Aubrey may have cleverly picked SENS as his acronym de guere. It doesn't piss off as many people as SEZS (Strategies for Engineered Zero Senescence) or SERS (Strategies for Engineered Reversal of Senescence) do. People are refusing to confront the idea that we can engineer a *better* human, i.e. one that does not age at all. I suspect that in large part this is probably due to the fact that most people realize that such developments upset much of the "apple cart" that is the current reality.

Which is basically the point, though I think de Grey gives a more succinct explanation for the conservatism of modern day gerontology in this respect. I recently discussed an unpleasant future in which advocates of the moderate, slow, low-yield approach to working anti-aging medicine suck the oxygen from serious attempts at real progress through Strategies for Engineered Negligible Sensescence (SENS), or other, similar approaches based on damage repair. It's not a pleasant thought, but not out of the realm of possibility.

All this is why we must continue to hammer away at promoting a better approach in the fight to defeat aging. If mainstream funding and research leads to nothing but optimization of our present longevity, nothing more than a few additional decades of healthy life, then we will all suffer and die having missed the opportunity of radical life extension. History shows us a thousand possibilities that never came to pass - we have a chance to defeat aging in our lifetimes, but it's up to us to make that happen.

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What people who say this seem not be able to grasp, like a jet flying above their head, is that CR and other life *extension* tactics enable practitioners to survive those extra years that just might let them live indefinitely, via SENS.

Posted by: Scott Miller at February 23rd, 2006 8:39 AM

There's no objection to doing both - the objection is to working exclusively towards limited healthy life extension, which is the present mainstream of aging research, while pretending that nothing better is possible.

Posted by: Reason at February 23rd, 2006 9:25 AM

I think Guarente and Sinclair put it best when they say that:

"We will not know definitively how Sirtuin genes affect human longevity for decades. Those who are hoping to pop a pill and live to 130 may have therefore been born a bit too early. Nevertheless, those of us already alive could live to see medications that modulate the activity of Sirtuin enzymes employed to treat specific conditions such as Alzheimer's, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. In fact, several such drugs have begun clinical trials for treatment of diabetes, herpes and neurodegenerative diseases".

You can read the entire thing here:

Posted by: Jonsy at February 23rd, 2006 6:36 PM

All this talk about sirtuins and longevity genes, has reminded me, that I'm still wondering about those longevinex's claims.

I mean if something like resveratrol is indeed linked to a few centenarian population hotspots, the french paradox, and even to those who've reached the greatest age in both genders, and if it's as delicate as they say, it could've serious implications.

Even through wine, that is living right next to a vineyard, at most those who consumed it would've only been getting sporadic doses(a glass a day means first glass has it next few ones don't, as it's supposedly destroyed by oxygen upon exposure in 1-2 days.). It could mean that even in humans the potential to extend lifespan, through cr and cr mimetics, by decades may be there.

Posted by: apcx at February 23rd, 2006 8:12 PM

That's awesome Bradbury had the guts to say that, I'd been thinking that too. I love the idea of slowing metabolism and tinkering to create a perfect organism and all, but it's obviously not geared to help people already old, which is a tad brutal, and unlike rejuvenation research, doesn't stand to benefit any other medical problems, and likely has problems of its own.

For example, a big problem of CR is that you can't exactly build a lot of muscle or do a lot of physical activity if you want to. That increases your caloric needs, and that's opposite to the philosophy of minimalizing your metabolism. Only... a lot of people like to sweat, like to run, like to build muscle, etc. So it's limiting human life. I still think it's worth it... but as a temporary fix so you live long enough to get rejuvenation. It should only ever run concurrently and not replace rejuvenation research, which battles not just time-based degeneration, but all forms of degeneration and mutation, really.

I see it as generally taking far too much time. We should put all of it on the backburner for satisfying curiosity at a later date. What it would do is make aging more economic, in that you might need rejuvenation treatments less frequently, saving on costs. Of course, perfecting those treatments so they work and producing them en masse would still do far more for affordability.

Everyone knows its a good idea to help us last until then, but how come the researchers looking into it aren't doing rejuvenation research? Perhaps to each their own... but I certainly wouldn't fund such research in lieu of needed moneys in SENS.

Posted by: Tyciol at July 5th, 2007 11:20 AM
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