This Should Be Interesting

Per a press release I stumbled over today, Aubrey de Grey and S. Jay Olshansky will be debating longevity science at an investment-focused actuarial conference at the end of next month:

Longevity estimates continue to exert a major influence on the value of life settlement investments. Over the past few years, estimates have changed and, in some cases, dramatically affected the value of portfolios. The future of human longevity and the possibility of radical lifespan extension have caused some uncertainty among this investing community. The Medical Life Expectancy Debate will present both sides of the fundamental question: Is radical human lifespan extension within our grasp?

Dr. de Grey, arguing for the motion, states: "Radical postponement of age-related ill-health is a feasible medical goal." De Grey argues that there is a 50% chance of life extension therapies arriving in 25-30 years. If that happens, lifespans could theoretically be extended almost indefinitely and it’s possible that the first person to live for a thousand years is actually alive today.

Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, on the other hand, makes the case that radical life extension is not going to happen - if it ever happens - in time to influence any of the investment decisions made by those involved with life settlements or insurance linked securities. Olshansky continues, "Nothing in gerontology comes close to fulfilling the promise of dramatically extended human lifespans, but it may soon be possible to slow aging enough to influence ILS in the near-term."

Insofar as anyone gets to be appointed spokesperson, de Grey and Olshansky might be considered spokespeople for the two opposing viewpoints on research strategy in the pro-longevity gerontology community today. On the one hand we have the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence that focus on repair of damage and circumventing incomplete understanding of our biochemistry, with the goal of reversing aging and rejuvenating the old as soon as possible. On the other hand, we have the Longevity Dividend and metabolic engineering, efforts with a focus on establishing complete understanding of our biochemistry and using that understanding to slow down the ongoing progression of aging.

Note that there are ever fewer voices from the scientific community arguing that we should not or cannot significantly intervene in the aging process. The consensus is that we can, and the important debates are all now over methodology and timelines.

By far the dominant view in the aging research community at present is that metabolic engineering to slow aging is the only viable way forward to longer, healthier lives. This is unfortunate, because metabolic engineering doesn't seem likely to produce results any faster than SENS-like strategies at a given level of research investment, and it won't produce end results that are of any great benefit to people who are already old. Slowing aging by slowing down ongoing damage isn't worth much to someone who is already damaged and old. (Those people who are already old and damaged will include most of you reading this now given the expected timeline of development).

That said, it is promising to see both sides presenting their views to a wealthy and interested community. I've posted on the topic of actuaries and the life insurance industry in the past; vast sums of money rests upon projections of life expectancy, and the uncertainty in those projections stemming from the biotechnology revolution is causing ever more attention to be directed towards longevity science in those quarters. Hopefully some of those folk will take time away from thinking about their portfolios to ponder their personal futures and how they can influence those futures by supporting longevity research.


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