Defeating Specific Diseases of Aging Versus Defeating Aging

We're still talking about the SENS fundraising discussion from last Saturday over in this corner of the web. First Anne C.

At a meeting yesterday with a group of fellow longevity advocates, one issue that turned into a point of discussion was that of whether it is worth presenting longevity treatments as means to mitigate specific diseases, or whether doing so is simply a distraction from the fundamental issue of addressing aging itself (or whether it really matters).

Next Mike Linksvayer:

Don't dwell on the of your program (unless they're short term money makers). De Grey claimed that repairing each of the seven causes of aging (with the possible exception of mutant mitochondria) individually would cure a raft of diseases. If true, this should be more than adequate to fund fixes for each of the seven causes individually without ever mentioning any potential for life extension. De Grey claimed this is a hard argument to make, as curing individual diseases through other means will be less expensive than the relevant cause of aging fix. If true, de Grey is either extremely optimistic about conventional medical research or is lying about the level of funding needed for his program, considering the $US billions spent on individual disease research annually. I suspect de Grey is wrong on this point and hope other researchers and organizations take an engineering-fixes-for-causes approach via funding for individual disease research.

As I recall, de Grey said that patching up the pathology of one age-related disease well enough that the patient would die of something else (i.e. let's say push it off for a decade perhaps, or not even that) was cheaper than developing the new technology to repair the root molecular damage. That seems like a fair enough estimate to me, and unfortunately this patch-just-a-little strategy is very much the focus of the mainstream of modern day medical science.

The portion of the discussion touching on fundraising under the banner of defeating aging versus fundraising under the banner of defeating one or more specific age-related diseases (via SENS-like strategies of repairing specific molecular damage) was held a little at cross purposes, I think. Some folk were focused down on critiquing the presentation materials, others on the broader scope of fundraising and influencing the research community, and it wasn't always clear in the moment where comments applied.

In any case, I think I take the opposite side of the argument from Linksvayer above: in my opinion it matters greatly as to the banner you raise funding beneath. The problem we face today is not a lack of funding for medical research per se - rather, it is a culture disinterested in tackling aging head-on. It doesn't matter how much money is flowing into the study of aging or treating age-related disease if the defeat of aging is not a primary, agreed-upon, widely supported goal. There has never been any trouble in raising funding for new methods of tackling specific age-related disease, but look at the rate of progress today in extending healthy life span in the old; it's faster than zero, but if healthy life extension continues to be incidental and inefficient, we will all still age, suffer and die - and not significantly later than we would have done if medical science stood still. In this context here, I rate "not significantly" as a couple of decades - sounds good, but it is enormously worse than what is possible if we get our act together.

It doesn't have to be that way, however - we have a chance to change things quickly enough to matter. The change we need to enact is at the level of infrastructure, understanding and intent. When the expected cost of development and commercialization of new technology runs into the hundreds of billions, it doesn't happen by accident. At that scale, the only change and progress to come about is that enacted deliberately and with intent, in an atmosphere of sufficient support and understanding to make ongoing fundraising and collaboration possible.

In other words, if you're not working on A, don't expect to achieve A.

As I see it, real cultural influence on attitudes towards the defeat of aging can start with breakthroughs in the fundraising process. It starts with respected, successful, wealthy individuals - and later organizations - donating to a cause previously considered fringe. We're seeing the first steps in that process now in the efforts of the Methuselah Foundation: donations from individuals such as Peter Thiel and Paul Glenn send a message to the wider audience precisely because they are explicitly given to help the defeat of aging, as opposed to the defeat of heart disease, or cancer, or any one of the other unpleasant end states caused by aging.

If the people of the world felt the same way about defeating aging as they did about defeating agingcancer, none of us in the healthy life extension community would need to be engaged in this sort of activism and advocacy. There would already be a huge infrastructure dedicated to the problem, and we'd be out there fundraising just like the folk who run for cancer research. This is the context within which Methuselah Foundation fundraising takes place - this is the sea change we need to bring about, by a combination of judicious scientific advances, advocacy, and progress in the fundraising space.

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defeating all diseases of aging and extending maximum lifespan is not the goal of privately funded research because their goal is to make profits by treating people without curing them completely
and it's not the goal of any government because the government would have pay more from pension funds to longer living individuals

so it can be only a goal of charitable non profit organization and for such organization it's not easy to raise billions of bucks

Posted by: nick at January 9th, 2007 11:47 AM

Hi Reason, it was great to meet you last Saturday in a non-virtual context.

Stumbled over the first sentence of your last paragraph: "If the people of the world felt the same way about defeating aging as they did about defeating aging." You probably meant cancer?


Posted by: David Shatto at January 9th, 2007 3:51 PM

David: quite right. Too many words too late at night.

Posted by: Reason at January 9th, 2007 5:01 PM

I suspect that the second blogger you quote may be quite correct that actually fixing things may be substantially cheaper than trying to patch them up so that people die of something else first.

One reason I think so is that everybody is trying to patch up a different disease. If all of them are roughly equally good at it, then by logical necessity none can succeed, and life-extension will be a loosing battle with diminishing returns.

Posted by: John Schloendorn at January 9th, 2007 8:46 PM

Nick: I don't buy that private research doesn't want to "cure" people. If you can cure aging, you could name your price. Moreover, everything I read suggests any aging cure will be temporary at best, which means people will need to keep coming back to keep young and healthy, at which point, you have a holy-grail cash cow.

So that's not the problem.

As for culture, I expect that will begin to change as the baby boomers age. There's already a slew of anti-aging things going on (like Botox), and eventually, as people realize we might be able to tackle the root issues, we'll start seeing more funding that way. That's my thoughts, anyway.

Posted by: Mailanka at January 10th, 2007 6:42 AM

My father fell for the 'I'm going to live to a youthful 110', and lived his life doing all the right things like not smoking, mimimal drinking, daily exercise, eating a healthy diet, taking vitamins, daily meditation, annual check-ups etc unfortunatly, he was quite shocked when he was diagnosed stage four terminal lung cancer and within three months he was gone. He died one month before his 70 birthday but because he was so unprepared to handle the reality that we are all organic beings with a limited lifespan, the last thre months of his life were the most painful. He simply refused to believe that he would ever grow old and die.

A firend who studied with the Tibetan monks told me once that "death is beautiful, it's the dying part which is so ugly".

Our culture does not wish to deal with the reality of dying as a natural process to life and instead does all sorts of frantic things to avoid the inevitable. We can either live life or waste it by trying to avoid death.

It was only towards the end of my father's life that he found God.

Posted by: syn at January 10th, 2007 7:15 AM

Nick: I don't buy that private research doesn't want to "cure" people. If you can cure aging, you could name your price.

I'm not one to gratuitously bash drug companies, because they do a lot of good work, but the financial reality is that drugs like Lipitor that have questionable efficacy in terms of longevity but can be prescribed to tens of millions of people for decades are what the stockholders want them to research. And they spend billions developing such drugs, while basic SENS research is a neglected unprofitable backwater.

Private research is great at finding practical applications for basic research, but not great at doing basic research. SENS is probably not at a point where practical applications are near.

Posted by: TallDave2 at January 10th, 2007 10:28 AM

How OLD are you people?
Reads like a bunch that believe they should be 40 until they die at 90+. Idiots!
You're either going to die or be one of those you fear, the guy in the walker, the lady in the scooter with the oxygen hose.
You don't get to be boomer 40 forever, regardless of health clubs/diets/surgeries.
Getting old is about acceptance, of what you've done/accomplished, or not.
I'm about to be 65, and am much more sanguine about end of life issues than I was at even 55.
Life is worth living until it isn't, and it isn't worth worrying about before then.
Again, idiots!!!

Posted by: Mike at January 10th, 2007 8:03 PM
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