More Researchers Should Speak Openly of Bold Goals in Extending the Healthy Human Lifespan

It's been a good few years since Aubrey de Grey first put forward his view of the political and social processes that inhibit progress in longevity science: the short summary is that a sort of logjam is created and sustained by the silence of researchers. When scientists don't talk openly about bold goals in their field then there can be no broad public support for funding of those goals, and conservative funding organizations will assign resources to other projects. There are many players in the grand game of scientific progress, but it ultimately falls to the researchers to define the bounds of the possible in the public eye, and it is their pronouncements - or lack thereof - that set the limits of what can be easily funded.

When researchers sit back and say nothing, or restrict themselves to visions of incremental gain when far more is possible, then progress suffers. There are many reasons as to why members of the aging research community were for decades very reluctant to talk about extending human life at all: fear of being associated with the fraudulent "anti-aging" marketplace, the normal reluctance to place a flag far out on the field even in an age of radical change, and so forth. Until very recently, the ethos of aging research was observation and little more, amounting to a stifling of research into extending the healthy human life span. Who can say how much of an opportunity was lost? Certainly the chance to build an aging research community with the same breadth and eagerness to produce measurable results as the cancer research community; that opportunity was squandered, and that task still lies ahead.

The old attitudes have largely thawed, however, in the face of a combination of persistent advocacy (such as that of the Methuselah Foundation and supporters) and many demonstrations of extended healthy life in laboratory animals. It has been welcome, these past few years, to see more researchers willing to step up to the plate to talk in public about radical life extension and pushing the boundaries of what can be achieved through biotechnology. Here is an example:

World leading laboratory aims to make life expectancy of 130 a normality:

Overshadowed by the white expanse of Edinburgh's Royal Infirmary, clinical trials, scientific research and medical advancements are taking place, out of sight and outwith the grasp of many minds. These lab coated magicians might not grab the headlines, [but] their pioneering projects could soon change life as we know it - starting with a life expectancy of over 100 years. This is the Scottish Centre for Regenerative Medicine (SCRM), whose discoveries surrounding the multiplying and self-renewing cells are bringing us step-by-step closer to organ regeneration, tissue repair and longer-lasting life.

"The average lifespan of the human being should be 130 years - that's what we're working towards," says Professor Bruno Péault, who has been internationally recognised for his research into stem cells. ... Professor Bruno Péault, who specialises in vascular regeneration, has been leading research into stem cells found in blood vessels, and their role in tissue development and repair.

"One day it would be the ultimate goal to be able to stimulate stem cells directly in situ, with the appropriate drug or hormone, to get them to regenerate. But this is science fiction at the moment," he says.

Science fiction only stays science fiction when the research community stands aside and remains silent. One of the important early steps in turning the vision of greatly extended healthy human life spans into reality is for scientists in relevant fields to loudly declare this to be a viable, desirable, plausible goal.


Why would it be the ultimate goal to stimulate stem cells in situ? Stem cells and their niches become damaged as people age, and there's only so much that can be done by "stimulating" the constituents of inherently defective cellular environments.

I think the goal should be to make cell therapy routine in the practice of medicine by improving its efficiency, delivery and surveillance (the latter using advanced genetic testing to discover any potential abnormalities). Eventually, the cell therapies perfected for their own inherent benefit can be used as delivery vehicles for gene therapies as well. Cells can be programmed to go into particular environments and differentiate along the most propitious paths, also disregarding any confusing environmental signals possibly originating from damaged tissue.

To reach a desirable future we need bold revolutions in the delivery of medicine, not more silver bullet magic pill fetishism. Right now I'm hoping for cosmetic applications (e.g. restoring sub-cutaneous fat) to create the market forces required for cell therapy to become routine.

Posted by: José at November 6th, 2012 8:03 PM

I do not agree. I think researchers should speak of a new paradigm of fighting diseases that encapsulates SENS whilst avoiding comments about lifespan. The lifespan element is the wrong focus because it's too forward thinking. If you were a researcher who said, "We can prevent the diseases of aging by these methods enabling people to live healthier lives", then that message would not be drowned out by short sighting musing on ethics or population.

Posted by: Glen at November 7th, 2012 1:14 AM
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