No Silver Bullet For Degenerative Aging ... Yet

A thousand and one people out there in the world are trying their hardest to convince you they have a silver bullet that will prevent, slow or cover up aspects of degenerative aging. From the perspective of the radical life extension that will be possible in the years ahead, none of these folk are selling anything worth a damn.

Sure, there are a few modestly effective ways to cover up some outward-facing results of age-related damage. But why spend your resources there when (a) everyone knows what lies underneath anyway, and (b) you could be helping progress towards medical technology that would actually repair that same age-related damage?

Sure, some modern therapies are fairly promising when it comes to patching up some of the hundreds or thousands of age-related conditions that result from accumulated cellular damage. But the development of new patches and the patching process is always too slow, too late, too expensive - and it fails all too soon anyway, because the underlying causes were not tackled. Present approaches are wonderfully better than nothing for those who suffer, but are as nothing in comparison to the methods and medical technologies that could blossom in the near future.

Sure, calorie restriction and a number of related lifestyle choices will reduce the rate at which you accumulate cellular damage - thereby extending your healthy life span and greatly reducing your risk and cost of suffering common age-related disease. If you're smart, you'll make use of these strategies ... but you'll be just as dead in the end if we don't progress far further in medicine.

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.

The sensible approach to what little benefit we can gain for health and life span today is illustrated well, I think, in this post from Eric Boyd:

I need to carefully consider how long I figure I need to live in order to benefit from SENS type interventions. I figure that without interventions, I should be healthy up to about age 70, plus maybe 10 more years in an increasing frail state. This gives me 40 years of further progress in medicine. Assuming we don't get started on SENS (i.e. addressing the causes of aging via an engineering approach) for another 5 years or so, that gives me 35 years of progress before I am 'desperate'. I would like not to have to take the risks and expenses of being a first-generation-treatment taker, which likely means that I have to lag state-of-the-art by 10 years to feel comfortable, and that means only 25 years of progress. That is not enough - given what I know about even fairly simple things like drug development and testing, I expect that real anti-aging interventions will take decades to develop, so 25 years will just be the beginning of results.

CR could theoretically add 10 to 20 years of extra vitality of my life, which is more than enough to make a substantial difference. For this reason I will be implementing a system over the next few years

In other words, you are not the cricket grasping at the now. Rather, you are the ant who plans ahead.

We are close to real, working anti-aging medicine, after all - with the right level of public support and investment in research. It all brings to mind nothing quite so much as the fable of the lazy cricket and the industrious ant - although this may be somewhat unfair on the crickets in this case. My point is this: if you find yourself playing the role of the cricket, looking for necessities at the last minute in any aspect of life, then you are likely out of luck. Nothing in this world happens without preparation, hard work and a sound recognition of what the future will bring. The winter of age-related degeneration approaches for us all - indeed, we have a very good idea as to when it will arrive. We cannot wait until aging hurts and incapacitates us to search for medicines that will repair the damage to our bodies and enable us to live longer, healthier, active lives. If we wait, if we laze rather than work to ensure that the right research is funded, then it will be too late in the decades ahead. We will suffer, become crippled, and die.

Do you save for your retirement? I'm sure you do if you're of working age. If you can look that far ahead for financial matters, why are you not also investing a similar level of resources to ensure that you will not be crippled by age-related diseases? Be an ant. Don't be a cricket.

A silver bullet for degenerative aging will exist one day - if we all pull our weight and help to make it happen. It will take the the form of multiple therapies, repair and preventation technologies for different modes of age-related damage. It will be comparatively limited and expensive at first, but then improve rapidly in reliability and cost, as do all new medical technologies.

Will the first meaningful anti-aging technologies arrive within our lifetime? We - all of us alive today - will determine the answer to that question through our actions and choices. Be an ant, not a cricket.

Technorati tags: , , ,

Comment Submission

Post a comment; thoughtful, considered opinions are valued. New comments can be edited for a few minutes following submission. Comments incorporating ad hominem attacks, advertising, and other forms of inappropriate behavior are likely to be deleted.

Note that there is a comment feed for those who like to keep up with conversations.