The end of last month marked the close of the eighth year of Fight Aging!, and here we are in year nine of this bullheaded endeavor - the idea that the good can eventually drive out the bad in the online world of information on aging, longevity, and what best to do about the degenerations that await us all. Optimism shines eternal, I know, but as the science of human rejuvenation becomes ever closer to reality, the shysters and the marketeers of the "anti-aging" industry must eventually go the way of the real snake oil salesmen of old, travelling cart and all. Along with them must go the apologists for aging, the people who would force death upon everyone, and the other malignant naysayers.
Eight years was more than long enough for me to traverse that interesting section of life during which one first starts to notice the signs of decay - the things that don't work quite so well anymore, the initial small signs of what will be a lot worse later on. It makes it a good deal harder to avoid dwelling upon just how lousy the human condition is, all things considered. But that's all relative: I can tell you that the human condition is a raw deal because I can look ahead and see just how much of an improvement is possible through well-envisaged future technologies - not that there's anything special about being able to do that, but in this era we can be a lot more specific than our visionary ancestors. We can explain in some detail how we will defeat all disease, eliminate suffering, and of course remove aging as a threat to life and health. No serious, knowledgeable thinker can argue against these goals as possible and plausible, given our present understanding of physics and biology. We are machinery, our malfunctions are only a matter of atoms out of place, and precision control of atoms will be the basis for all of our technologies sooner or later. The world is our oyster in the realm of what is possible, but as always the question is how soon that future will arrive.
To my eyes, and as I noted recently, I think that this is absolutely a question of when the serious funding turns up. Progress towards rejuvenation biotechnology - the real, make a big difference therapies, not this incremental mainstream drug development that makes up nearly all present day work - is limited far more by money now than by the will to get the job done. A decade ago, this wasn't the case; the money wouldn't even have been solicited because the research community was stuck in the conservatism of silence regarding aging. Speaking of rejuvenation through medical science was the quick road to losing your funding.
It has been a privilege to watch those old attitudes dissolve so rapidly, a great deal of which is thanks to the efforts of volunteer groups like the Methuselah Foundation, outspoken advocates like Aubrey de Grey, and the support of hundred of grass-roots donors and thousands more people who made their own modest contributions to changing the culture of aging research. Every time I come across a new abstract listed in PubMed in which the authors say of their research "and this merits further investigation as the potential basis for a therapy to slow aging and extend healthy life," I am reminded to just how great a battle was won - and how recently. It was nothing less than a sea change, absolutely necessary as a precursor to what will come next.
But we're not getting any younger, the wages of success are to be taken for granted, and next year it'll be "but what have you done for me lately?" Rightly so, really - resting on laurels never got anything accomplished. The near future is a matter of money, and more so than the recent past: how much is going towards the most successful organizations and those working most directly on rejuvenation biotechnology, like the SENS Foundation. Money is the limiting factor for the progress produced by those organizations, as they are still comparatively small, with much room for growth in the work they can usefully start on within weeks of a check being written.
As a final thought for today, I'll note that there are days when it really doesn't seem like it has been eight years I've been doing this. But when you stop to look at the details early 2012 is a whole different world from early 2004. It might not look all that different when you stick your head out of the door, but change is happening.