The latest Hourglass blog carnival on the biology of aging and longevity science is over at psique, and closes with an interesting historical quote:
~These bodies which now we wear belong to the lower animals; our minds have already outgrown them; already we look upon them with contempt. A time will come when Science will transform them by means which we cannot conjecture, and which, even if explained to us, we could not now understand, just as the savage cannot understand electricity, magnetism, steam. Disease will be extirpated; the causes of decay will be removed; immortality will be invented~. -Winwood Reade, 1872, from his book The Martyrdom of Man
The difference between Reade's era and ours is that we have a fairly clear vision as to the means by which we will change our bodies for the better. We will develop biotechnological tools to repair the damage of aging that has been identified in past decades:
Many things go wrong with aging bodies, but only a few of them are primary changes in the structure of the body itself - that is, aging damage. Other changes (such as increases in inflammation and oxidative stress) are the secondary consequences of this primary change: either the direct results of those damaged components' inability to carry out their normal role in metabolism, or the body's adaptive or maladaptive attempts to compensate for those changes. Thus, by removing, repairing, replacing, or rendering harmless the damage, we restore the normal functioning of the body's cells and essential biomolecules, and the secondary changes are given the chance to return to their normal, youthful baseline.
Scientists have spent decades looking for such changes in aging bodies, this research has led to the conclusion that there are no more than seven major classes of such cellular and molecular damage ... We can be confident that this list is complete, first and foremost because of fact that scientists have not discovered any new kinds of aging damage in nearly a generation, despite the facts that research into aging has been slowly accelerating and that we have had ever-increasingly powerful tools with which to investigate the aging body.
If you look at the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) you'll see that present knowledge is detailed enough for researchers to get to work, assuming they can raise the funding. Indeed, a small amount of this work has been taking place in past years, and is bearing fruit - the chief obstacles to progress here are entirely a matter of will and resources, not knowledge. When a large number of people decide to support longevity science, the field will start to look a lot like the last decade of stem cell research. Until then, progress is painfully slow considering the costs of delay.