AARP The Magazine on Healthy Life Extension

The magazine of the AARP - once upon a time the American Association of Retired Persons, but retirement is changing as healthy life span lengthens - recently published a set of articles on health, aging and healthy life extension. They're remarkably good for mainstream fare; even the diet article is largely focused on the scientific backing for calorie restriction. The science throughout is broad mainstream, meaning metabolic research and efforts to slow aging (or just prevent or cure age-related disease) rather than efforts to reverse aging by repairing age-related cellular damage. Also, you'll note the recognition that no medical technology available today is proven to do much more for general health and age-related decline than exercise and calorie restriction. Take look and see what you think:

AARP The Magazine Special Report: Living Longer

For all the research, the best way to be a long-lived human like Ed Rondthaler seems relatively uncomplicated: eat an antioxidant-rich diet, avoid obvious environmental pollution such as cigarettes, get lots of exercise, and find ways to cope with stress. "Some would have you believe that the key to longevity is in a pill bottle," Sprott says. "My view is that it's not there. All of those medicines and vitamins that are supposed to make you live a very long time are modern-day snake oil. The real key is diet and exercise. We don't have anything that comes out of a pill bottle that does a better job."

...

"The potential here is not just to make people live longer. That's not the goal, even," says molecular biologist Lenny Guarente, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "The goal is to find ways to significantly mitigate the major diseases of aging. And that would include cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, neurodegenerative disease."

The standard shying away from any public endorsement of extending human life span is in evidence where scientists are quoted, sadly. Sooner or later, researchers in the mainstream are going to have to grow a backbone on that topic - until they do, funding for meaningful progress will continue to be hard to find. If Olshansky and Miller can do it with the Longevity Dividend proposal, so can the rest of you folk with conservative grant relationships to nurture! While we're on the topic, I recommend you read Aubrey de Grey's thoughts on this conservatism in the mainstream of gerontology.

Also noteworthy: regulation is one overriding reason as to why little or no funding is presently devoted to any of the now obvious scientific paths to extending healthy life span.

So why aren't scientists attempting to develop a true longevity pill? For starters, the Food and Drug Administration, which approves prescription drugs for safety and effectiveness, doesn't recognize aging as a disease. Therefore, the agency will not consider a pill that simply extends life. And being realistic, says Peter DiStefano, Ph.D., chief scientific officer of Elixir, "it's not like we're going to run out and find you a pill that you can pop and look ten years younger in a few months."

In other words, you won't get funding unless you're addressing a specific, named condition. Put differently, no funding for you unless you're patching up holes in the dam long after the root cause of the problem has gone untended and grown into a serious, life-threatening issue. The entire regulatory structure is set up to actively discourage the better approach of repairing root causes prior to the development of age-related conditions. All the more reason not to have a regulatory structure - they always suppress improvement, innovation, competition and good service.

Perhaps the most educational part of the articles and response from AARP members is the overriding emphasis placed upon age-related degeneration. The message is clear: resistance to living longer stems from expectations of loss of health and vigor. From the piece on the future of life extension science:

Perhaps most important of all: not everyone wants to live forever. "If you go out and interview a bunch of 90-year-olds, you don't find a whole lot that want to live another 50 years," says Richard Sprott, Ph.D., director of the Ellison Medical Foundation, which funds longevity research. "It's 50-year-olds who want to do that."

Then from the AARP discussion board for this special report - which I strongly recommend you read, by the way - we see this sort of sentiment, reinforced over and over again in many different voices:

I wouldn't mind living to 100+ if I could be physically independent and sel-sufficient and financially able to support myself.

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The points made by both of you who have previously posted are well taken, and I definitely agree with them. I, too, would not want to live well beyond 100 only to find myself unable to care for myself, with no quality of life, and financially destitute.

However, since we're all thinking in terms here of something that has not yet been possible, we have to allow for the fact that, along with increased longevity, ways might be found to keep us healthy and productive for a much longer period of time. Suppose we could live beyone 100, but instead of being sick, frail, helpless and broke we were able to remain vibrant, healthy, and involved in working life much longer than people are now.

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I doubt there would be ANY demand for medicine or science to work on extending life if it is not healthy, productive life. Thus, I think we can safely exclude the thought that any studies would be done on keeping senile, incontinent, feeble people alive.

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I would love to live over 100 years, as long as I will be healthy. Then I could work for a living if I run out of money.

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I would not mind living another 30 to 50 years, but only if I can support myself, keep working and busy (that's why I started my home business), remain healthy and stay active. I definitely would like to see my Son finish college, get married and watch his children grow. I would also like to travel the World with him as he competes in his sporting events and help him and his family in any way I can. I would not want to be put on life support or be placed in a nursing home. I would rather not be here if I could not be self-sufficient.

This is a topic I discuss on and off all the time, but it is an education to see it so much front, center and focus. One wonders if all the nonsense philosophy and navel-gazing bioethics floating around the healthy life extension community and the pro-death opposition is just so much smoke in the smokescreen. What average folk - those not paid to think deep thoughts and throw spanners in front of the real workers - care about are the by-products of youth and health: self-suffiency, the absence of suffering, a life of vigor and function. Which leads us to suppose that perhaps the Tithonus Error - the mistaken, often knee-jerk belief that a lengthening of life would mean more and greater disability - really is the main roadblock to greater widespread support for healthy life extension research.

Scientists may never be able to entirely deliver the Ganymede scenario of eternal youth, but they're working hard to ensure people avoid Tithonus' fate.

Abolish the vision of Tithonus in the minds of the many, and the road to the future of healthy life extension will open wide? Food for thought.

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Comments

"In other words, you won't get funding unless you're addressing a specific, named condition. Put differently, no funding for you unless you're patching up holes in the dam long after the root cause of the problem has gone untended and grown into a serious, life-threatening issue."

This is not entirely true. Regulators would be more than grateful for any treatment that prevents serious conditions if taken early enough. They do insist on a demonstration of its efficiacy, which is ridiculously difficult to do for treatments so long-acting that they need to be initiated before pathology accrues. But it's not the regulator who is to blame for this, but the nature of how things are.

Targeting pre-existing damage, rather than metabolism is the silver bullet that solves all these problems. Regulators would be most greatful if this were consistently done. The real problem is that too few workers have the courage to try.

Posted by: John Schloendorn at September 3rd, 2006 6:25 PM

So the regulator is not to be blamed for shutting the door - at gunpoint, given that gunpoint is what ultimately backs up all such bureaucratic declarations of law - on everyone who has a different viewpoint on standards of proof, the development process, how to go about testing, when to commercialize, and so forth? Is the regulator infallible? I think not.

This is not a matter of "the way things are" - people have successfully funded, developed and marketed products, services and efforts with multi-decade payoffs throughout human history.

But insist on - and enforce - impossible standards of proof to even set the first foot on the first rung of the ladder, and all that potential evaporates.

Posted by: Reason at September 3rd, 2006 7:56 PM

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