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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