These days the mainstream press is giving a larger sliver of attention to various ongoing efforts to treat aging as a medical condition and thereby extend healthy life. We should expect to see an increasing number of articles similar to this one as funding for proactive aging research grows and more large institutions with publicity teams become involved:
There are a number of biological components involved in the process of ageing. These cause the body to slowly degrade at the cellular level. Old age is also a leading risk factor for many common illnesses, such as cancer and heart disease. Tackling ageing, therefore, is seen as a way to combat many diseases at once. This is the motivation behind Google's anti-ageing startup called Calico, which was founded last year and is led by Art Levinson, the former head of Genentech, a pioneer of the biotechnology industry. Craig Venter, a geneticist who was instrumental in the sequencing of the human genome, created a similar company earlier this year. The primary goal of these and other efforts is not necessarily to extend humans' lifespan, but rather their healthspan, or the number of years lived in good health. Many scientists, though, believe that any effort to slow or stop the progression of age-related diseases must deal with the cellular damage involved in ageing - so longer life is an inevitable and welcome byproduct.
These newer outfits and much anti-ageing research over the past decade have focused on genes. The chances of a person living to 80 are based mostly on behaviour - don't smoke, eat well and exercise - but the chances of living beyond that are based largely on genetics. So scientists are looking for the "protective genes" that slow cellular decline and ward off diseases in [long lived individuals]. If researchers can find them it is hoped that pharmaceutical firms might create drugs that mimic their effects in people otherwise likely to achieve normal lifespans. Others think that to go further the body must be treated like a machine in need of regular repair and replacement parts. Regenerative medicine offers some hope in this regard. Scientists are using stem cells to grow human replacement parts, like tissues and organs. In theory, a person could keep going back to the shop for new parts, so long as his brain remained intact. Scientists even talk about treating diseases that ravage the brain, like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, with replacement nerve cells.
Optimists, like Aubrey de Grey, a provocative anti-ageing researcher in England, believe that technology will allow people alive today to live well beyond [the present limits of old age]. Most others believe that such progress is some way off. A more realistic hope is that anti-ageing research will lead to lower health-care costs. One of the characteristics of the very old is that they tend to be healthy right up until their deaths. They therefore cost health-care systems less than most old people, especially those suffering from chronic diseases. Scientists talk of a "longevity dividend" that might be achieved by compressing the period of ill health at the end of life for everyone. This would at least address the paradox of the quest for eternal life: people want to live for ever, but they don't want to grow old.