When it's working, advocacy for longevity science funding and progress towards rejuvenation biotechnology is a steady process of growth; an accumulation of articles, conversions, acts of persuasion, and new advocates. It continues year after year, and perhaps it is sometimes hard to tell whether we're better placed in 2011 than we were in 2010, but we can certainly look further back to see clear and meaningful progress over the past five or ten years in public awareness of longevity science, media attention, and support for bold action in the scientific community science. Turning a formerly fringe idea into a mainstream vision for the future - persuading the world, in other words - doesn't happen overnight, sad to say. But it does happen, and it is well underway for the goal of greatly extended healthy longevity.
I noticed one small sign of the spread of ideas today: a paper in the Cambridge Journal of Healthcare Ethics written by a professor in the field, which opens this way:
Picture this. You are having your regular medical checkup, when, all of a sudden, the physician turns to you and says: "Oh, did I remember to mention that you can now live forever?" You look at the doctor enquiringly and she goes on: "Well, it's not actual immortality, you know, but they've invented this treatment - I don't have the full details - that stops aging, getting physically older. It might not be for everyone, but you seem to be a suitable candidate. You could still die of accidents and illness, of course, but they've calculated that with care and any luck you should live to be a thousand, as opposed to the hundred or so that you would now have. And in a millennium, techniques will advance further, so there could be more in store for you after that."
You might look back into the Fight Aging archives for the origin of that thousand year life span figure. In essence it's based on accident rates; sooner or later that piano will fall on you, assuming you fail to alter your life in ways that greatly reduce risk over the long term.
Pianos or not, our lives are too short, ramping down into dysfunction, frailty, and disease just as we become good at this business of living. But in this age of rapidly advancing biotechnology we have the opportunity to do something about this problem: we don't have to suffer the unmodified human condition, as our ancestors did. The scenario painted above by the quoted bioethicist will never happen quite as written, but with the right levels of funding we are no more than a few decades from therapies that can in fact significantly reverse and repair the degenerations of aging. They will not be perfect, these first generation medical technologies, but they will give us additional decades, and science will not be standing still while we enjoy those extra years of healthy life. Twenty years is an eternity in biotechnology: whole new fields will emerge and radical new leaps forward will be made, all the better to further repair the damage of aging and give us yet more years to enjoy being alive. This is actuarial escape velocity, a future in which the scientific community can add healthy years to our lives faster than we are aging our way towards frailty and the grave.
The funding needed to start in earnest upon this grand project is presently absent, sadly. The steps required to gain that funding are all a matter of advocacy: persuasion, the growth of the community of people who are aware of the possibilities offered by longevity science, more articles and papers discussing how to use biotechnology to shape the future of our lives. So we should be pleased to see concepts like the thousand year life span and actuarial escape velocity making their way out into the broader community. Of such small steps is progress made.