A Review of "The Future of Aging"

Over at Depressed Metabolism, you'll find a review of The Future of Aging, a book that covers the high points of longevity research and development pretty much from end to end. That includes viewpoints on transhumanist ideals of an ageless society, present work on rejuvenation biotechnology, the cryonics industry, as well as mainstream work on understanding calorie restriction and slowing aging through metabolic manipulation.

Editor-in-chief, cryobiologist, and aging researcher Gregory M. Fahy and his associate editors Michael D. West, L. Stephen Cole and Steven B. Harris have compiled what might be the most impressive collection of articles on interventive gerontology to date in their 866 page collection The Future of Aging: Pathways to Human Life Extension. The book is divided into 2 parts. The first part includes general, scientific, social and philosophical perspectives on life extension. The second part is a collection of proposed interventions, which are organized in chronological order, starting with the (projected) earliest interventions first. Of course, such an organization of the materials necessitates a subjective estimation of when such technologies will be available and is bound to be controversial. The collection closes with a number of appendices about contemporary anti-aging funding and projects (SENS, Manhattan Beach Project).

I wanted to draw your attention to this line of thinking:

One thing that remains a mystery to me is how such an accelerating pace of anti-aging technologies could be validated considering the relatively long life expectancy of humans. Presumably we are expected to adopt a lot of these technologies based on their theoretical merits, success in animal studies, or short-term effects in humans. ... Reading all these inspiring examples, however, I found myself faced with the same kind of despair as when reading about all the neuroprotective interventions in stroke and cardiac arrest. There is great uncertainty how such interventions would fare in humans (or other animals) and, more specific to the objective of human life extension, how we ourselves can ascertain that there are no long-term adverse consequences. ... As reiterated throughout this review, the gold standard and most rigorous determination of the efficacy of anti-aging therapies and interventions is to empirically determine whether they increase maximum human lifespan.

Everyone alive today who ultimately has the chance to benefit from future rejuvenation medicine or methods to significantly slow aging will be using what is at first essentially unproven technology. It will be developed with the best knowledge and insight of the time, but proof is a very high bar when reaching the gold standard involves waiting for decades after the introduction of new therapies. We have a very good grasp of what should extend life and reverse the damage of aging in humans, and it is simply not an option to hold off to see if the first generation of therapies based on this knowledge do in fact extend life in humans. Just as is the case for the practice of calorie restriction today, we will adopt - and are best served by adopting - the use of those technologies that early on in their development can demonstrate (a) extended life in mice, (b) impressive short term changes in the biochemistry of humans, and (c) an acceptable level of observed side-effects and safety.

This all very reasonable given the circumstances: we lack the luxury of time. Facing the choice between calculated risk and the certain suffering that leads to death, sane people will choose risk. Unfortunately, fighting for the right to be able to take that risk - both in medical development and in the use of the resulting biotechnologies - is very necessary, given the present regulatory environment:

Looking back from the perspective of 2035, I guess we should all be surprised that it took so long. The Vegas Group came together formally sometime in 2016, though the first kick-off meeting was the year prior at one of the bi-annual conventions for longevity research held in California. By that time, more than a dozen gene manipulations and other biotechnologies had been shown to significantly extend life in mice, but no progress was being made to develop these technologies for human use. The Vegas Group was a natural outgrowth of a decade of advocacy and anticipation for human enhancement technologies, coupled with the frustrating realization that no such technologies would be meaningfully developed, never mind made available to the public, under the regulatory regimes then in place in the US and Europe.

There were initial fractures in the Vegas Group around the course of political change versus direct action - which led to the formation of another influential movement discussed elsewhere - but by 2017 the direct action contingent of the Vegas Group consisted of about a hundred people all told. Their declared objective was a distributed collaborative effort to (a) develop human versions of the most successful longevity and metabolic enhancements demonstrated in mice, and (b) cultivate hospitable medical groups in the Asia-Pacific countries. When these technologies were developed, the founding members would cast lots and carefully test upon themselves, in rotation, and through the agency of medical centers in Asia. In doing this the hope was to spur change in the public view and greater progress in the commercialization of these technologies - and of course to gain access to manipulations that were greatly extending life in mice.


Regarding the problem of testing and validation, I would think that most of the therapies would produce immediate health benefits, since they will be fixing harmful damage. So instead of focusing on maximum lifespan one could focus on current health, which may be obvious to the patient subjectively, or may be verifiable by experiment (e.g., that the arteries are clearer or the brain functions measurably improved).

Posted by: William Nelson at March 3rd, 2011 8:50 AM

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