Partaking of the Hope

If you go through the first half of your life basically healthy, there are actually only a few important differences between your situation and that of your ancestors a century or two ago when it comes to health and medical technology. For all that we live in the opening years of an era of advanced biotechnology, and in an age of far greater wealth, a healthy person benefits only through (a) the reduced burden of infectious disease, and (b) through the insulating effects of wealth against malnutrition, exposure, and other environmental misfortunes. These two points are enough to explain much of the steady rise in life expectancy that occurs with growing wealth and advancing medical technology over the past centuries.

What is the point of mentioning this? It is to remind us that we are not bathed in the golden aura of biological science, and the many ways to extend the healthy lives of mice demonstrated in the laboratory over the past decade have not yet translated into any medical technology we can use. As a healthy person in the US or Europe, the trajectory of your life under present day medicine isn't in fact terribly different from that of a privileged and healthy individual in the late 1800s. The only differences lie in your burden of infectious disease and the ability for even today's poor to enjoy a degree of protection from life's slings and arrows that was once only affordable to the wealthy. The trajectory of your life will only change meaningfully when prospective technologies for reversing the damage of aging are developed and become available in the clinic. Until then, you are only incrementally better off.

From the perspective of the life sciences and medical technology, these are amazing years to be alive, as I'm sure you've already noticed if you're a regular reader at Fight Aging! Yet that means exactly nothing for us until laboratory work is built into clinical applications. Detailed descriptions of technologies that can reverse aging give us hope, but nothing other than hope until the job of turning descriptions into real therapies is complete.

There are all too many people in the world who are happy to partake in the growing hope of engineered longevity and human rejuvenation, but who then sit back and do nothing to help bring about that desired future. And so the world works as it has always done: if everyone drinks hope and air, then hope and air is all that will come into being. Medical technologies do not develop themselves. They only arise in an environment of support, aggressive fundraising, and widespread agitation for their creation - environments in which a lot of people are materially contributing, in other words.

So don't feel as though you are made shielded or special by the fact that biotechnology is in the zeitgeist: you aren't, and you won't be until much more work is accomplished. Give some thought to helping out: after all, your life is as much on the line as everyone else's.

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