Charlie Rose On the Science of Longevity

The latest Charlie Rose show, which can be watched online at Google Video, takes a look at the modern mainstream of longevity research. By the guest list - including Cynthia Kenyon, Richard Weindruch, Robert Butler and Jay Olshansky - you might correctly guess that the focus will be in Longevity Dividend territory: modest gains, modest ambitions, the history of the past decade of genetic manipulation of longevity, calorie restriction research of the sort performed by Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, and the manipulation of metabolism to slow aging.

If you wander over to the Immortality Institute, you'll find an ongoing discussion on the show:

Well I thought it was very informative.

They talked about a lot of the research going on into longevity and aging. It was a round table discussion and they had a lot of experts sitting around (and one by satellite). They covered a lot of ground throughout the hour, but some of the things that they hit on were Caloric Restriction (and the results of study in worms, mice, monkeys, and humans so far), Resveratrol (and why it works, plus a word of warning to be cautious about the stuff you buy because of not knowing the quality of what you are buying, which could cause other problems), the effects of lengthened lifespans on society (which they all felt would be a net positive), genetic research and the results that have been shown in animals, plus a lot of other things I am probably forgetting.

I found it very interesting, and would urge all ImmInst members to watch the program if and when they get a chance. They were all very standard researchers that appeared, so there were no claims of immortality or indefinite lifespans or anything like that, but it was very interesting to see and hear what some of the top scientists in aging related fields are working on and think about some aging related issues.


The worst quotes of the show award goes to (starting at about the 45 minute mark):

Charlie Rose: "Nobody is arguing we could have a way to become immortal are they?"
One of the panel: "No, No, No. Nobody here is making that argument."
Charlie Rose: "Although there are some people that talk about it."
One of the panel: "There is a school out there that does."
Charlie Rose: "What is that school called?"
*everyone laughing*
One of the panel: "The radical school."
*laughing some more*
Charlie Rose: "Yeah...right"


I'm glad there are two "schools" as it's going to take a lot of funding and there will be many possible solutions to the problems of aging. I see it boiling down to :

School A: Metabolic Tinkerers. Focus is to slow aging and maximize qaulity - Sinclair, Olshansky, et al.

School B: Radical Engineering via Damage Repair, Gene & Stem Cell Therapy, etc (SENS). Focus is to rejuvenate and maximize both quality and quantity - de Grey, SENS et al.

If you don't stretch for the greater goals, you won't attain them. if you're not working towards the best possible result, you certainly won't get there. If we want to see significant progress towards true rejuvenation within our lifetimes - enabled by the march of science towards methods of repairing the cellular damage of aging - then we'd better step up and help to support the growth of SENS-like research programs.

Repairing aging is better than slowing aging, and doesn't look like it will take much longer, or be any harder. So why take the obviously worse route? Sadly, the obviously worse route is the dominant path for that part of the modern gerontology community willing to work towards healthy life extension. This must change in the years ahead.

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I think this is one of those situations where any publicity is good publicity.

If 1,000,000 people watch this show, and 100,000 of them are inspired to spend a little time poking around the internet for more information on anti-aging research (the modest-goals school is plausible to the average person and still of interest), and 10,000 of them consequently stumble upon Fight Aging or de Grey's site or Kurzweil's, and 1,000 of those take the time to read more and come to understand the real issues -- well, I don't see any downside.

Posted by: Infidel753 at March 30th, 2007 5:58 AM

The word "immortality" is thrown around in a casual, and often stupid, fashion far too much. A person who is immortal would be impossible to kill, for example, because he or she could not die. What is being discussed here and elsewhere is what science
fiction author James Blish referred to as "indefinitely prolonged life", way, way, back in the 1950's in his 4-book series "Cities in Flight". He posited what he called "anti-agathic" drugs that had to be taken at regular intervals to maintain lifespan. Naturally he was rather handwavey about it, it's a work of fiction.

But a far better answer to Charlie Rose would have been "No one is talking about immortality, because as far as we know that is impossible. However there are different approaches to enabling humans to live longer, and some of them take very different approaches from the kind of standard medicine that we saw in the 20th century". Then dicsussion could go forward in a rational fashion.

If I waved a magic wand and created a full blown SENS clinic, walked into it and got "reset" back to age 30, I could still be run over by a bus that afternoon. Or struck by a meteor. Or drown in a tsunami the next week. Etc. Words mean things, and "immortal" means something. We should be careful how it is used.

Posted by: observer at March 30th, 2007 7:57 AM

the observer is absolutely correct in the above comment:

to become true immortal it's not enough to engineer human body to be free from desease and aging.
the global society would also have to engineer natural and social environment to make impossible murders, suicides, accidents, so it becomes impossible to die. So social engineering, environmental engineering, and biomedical engineering are all equally necessary to make immortality a reality.

By definition "immortal" means -- not subject to death.

Posted by: nick at April 4th, 2007 4:07 PM

I've said it before but I still suspect that people will find it easier to scan their brains and upload them into a Matrix-like world than to implement something like SENS.

But this idea is even less popular than SENS is.

Posted by: Kip Werking at April 4th, 2007 9:47 PM
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