Much of Modern Aging Research in a Short and Pithy Nutshell

This caught my eye and I thought I'd share. The abstract is a good encapsulation of the majority of modern research into aging and longevity: understanding and explaining, with no great impetus to apply the knowledge gained to date.

The ins and outs of aging and longevity

As a nod to the oft-quoted evolutionary theorist George Williams, "It is remarkable that after a seemingly miraculous feat of morphogenesis, a complex metazoan should be unable to perform the much simpler task of merely maintaining what is already formed". How and why we age are mysteries of the ages.

The "how" of this mystery is the purview of experimental biologists who try to understand the basic processes that lead to system maintenance failure - from the level of molecules to that of entire organisms - that we term "aging".

The "why" of this mystery is the purview of evolutionary theorists whose ideas shape the questions that biogerontologists pose, on the basis of the premise put forth by another preeminent geneticist and evolutionary biologist, Theodosius Dobzhansky, that "[n]othing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution". These experimental and evolutionary perspectives converge in the modern science of aging, and its curious cousin "longevity", in an attempt to unify extensive findings from diverse areas of biology.

It's important to remember that it is still the case that very little of aging research is in any way aimed at producing potential interventions to slow or reverse aging. Further, aging research itself is a backwater in comparison to fields like cancer research, or other larger research efforts that focus on named diseases of aging. Those research efforts are almost entirely aimed at plugging holes rather than prevention, researchers picking small parts of late stage pathology and then seeking to commercialize therapies based on small gains from old-style drug discovery programs. The regulatory straightjacket enclosing the medical research community permits little else. None of that will be a source of great improvements in human longevity; it is the cause of the gentle incidental increase in human life expectancy at older ages (at a pace of perhaps a month every year at the moment), but it can't do much more than that.

Little of medical research focused on aging is ambitious. Little is relevant to tackling the roots of aging. Little is focused on moving beyond the slow historical plodding and focus on treating end-stage disease. All of this must change, and the present state of affairs is why it is so important to support efforts like those of the SENS Research Foundation, which are aimed in the right direction, directly relevant to extending healthy life spans, and likely the draw in more of the research community as they progress.


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