In the long run, the span of decades and centuries, the only thing that really matters is technological progress. It is how we measure the division of eras, it is what makes the difference between poverty and wealth. It is why we live longer than our immediate ancestors and suffer far less pain and disease. Of all our technologies, the most important at this time are all in the field of medical science. Biotechnology is advancing at a rapid pace, and this is the era in which all of the manifold ills caused by aging will be eliminated. The causes of aging will be treated successfully, and in the fullness of time all age-related disease will be banished as a relic of a barbaric past, alongside smallpox, scurvy, and many other medical conditions that existed only because our knowledge and ability was lacking.
Significant, rapid progress in medical science and its clinical application requires large-scale research, however, and sad to say but medical research is funded at a tiny fraction of the level of investment it merits given the potential benefits. In our societies more funding is devoted to drinks with pretty umbrellas in them, or the lighting of game fields, or the tools of organized murder used upon the members of other tribes. Better medicine is a very low priority, and most people don't give any thought to medical research at all - or at least not until they are ill, which is far too late. Progress in a newly wealthy society full of distractions therefore depends on the unreasonable, the zealots, the motivated, the visionaries, and there are never enough of them to go around.
When we are out there raising funds for early stage research into human rejuvenation that won't pay off for another decade or two, strong motivations and compelling visions are very necessary. We must paint a persuasive picture of the terrible cost of aging today, and show a vision of a near future vastly improved by cures for age-related disease. Most people won't think about this and won't help to make it happen unless it is put in front of them at some point, and that is really all that advocacy is at root; persuading the world to help make things better, one person at a time.
The most significant event in a person's life is death. It changes everything. More precisely, it takes everything that a person had. If he was in love, he no longer is. If he was aspiring to pleasures, there will be none any longer. The world will be gone for the person. Every single neuron will disappear that was responsible for the wishes, desires, and feelings. We don't realize this, but everything single thing we accomplish, we do so looking in the face of inevitable death. Death takes away the sense of a person's life.
That little human being that you were once, who looked at the world with eyes wide open, got surprised, laughed, sometimes cried, this human being will cease to exist. Will disappear. Forever. Death is the triumph of unfairness. It is bloodcurdling that everybody will die. Kids, olds people, adults, women, men. Every person's life is a tragedy, because it ends badly every time. Death is so horrible that a man denies the very fact of its existence to protect himself. He simply doesn't think he is mortal or comes up with a unproven theory that there is no death whatsoever.
The inevitability of death is defined by the fact that people age. Therefore, the most rational behavior will be to study aging, and to try to slow it down and stop. I am standing in the middle of the hall in the institute where aging will be defeated. When? When there is enough funding. When there are large-scale scientific projects. When a lot of people understand that aging has to be eliminated without proposing any additional requirements.
It is the year 2025 and it seems like a miracle reminiscent of John F. Kennedy's moonshot. A multi-modality cure for Alzheimer's disease was recently discovered, fast-tracked and approved by the FDA. Not just a prevention (although that came first, back in 2020), but breakthroughs in science and technology have actually caused a reversal of the disease. Just a decade earlier in 2015, the statistics were alarming and held the potential to create a global pandemic of catastrophic proportions. Half of all those over age 85 - the fastest-growing segment of the population - had some form of dementia. People of all ages cited Alzheimer's disease as the scariest of all disabling diseases in later life.
And for good reason. Back then, we didn't even know the cause of the disease let alone how to slow it, prevent it or cure it. And for the sufferers, the progression of the disease got worse over time until memory and judgment faded, followed by vast mood and behavioral changes, and eventually dementia victims had no ability to care for themselves in the most fundamental ways. Yet many often lived up to 20 years after diagnosis ... a life sentence for both the victims and their families. The projections for the future were staggering: By the year 2050, more than 115 million people world-wide could be suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other dementias.
But fast forward to the future when we woke up from that nightmare with a cure that combines advanced stem cell therapeutics, precision pharmaceuticals, trans-cranial direct-current stimulation and a highly specific lifestyle regimen. The results have been phenomenal. Suddenly cognitively impaired older adults who had been either living in long-term-care facilities or at home with around-the-clock caregiving could not only live with dignity but gain back their ability to remember, think, and live active lives again. And, it transformed the way everyone thinks about aging and the potential for the later years of life.
With the end of Alzheimer's disease, the world has changed for us in some very significant ways. More than half of all nursing-home beds have been emptied, saving hundreds of billions of dollars for families and governments world-wide. Tens of millions of caregivers have been unshackled from the burden of providing physical, emotional and financial care to loved ones suffering from the disease. And the health of these caregivers has improved dramatically, giving them a second chance at life. Research dollars aimed at finding a cure for Alzheimer's disease and other dementias can now be funneled into finding a solution for other diseases. Millions of individuals cured of Alzheimer's disease have now come out of the shadows to live independently, be a loving and interdependent part of their families, and find ways to be productive, contributing their wisdom and experience to their communities and society at-large. The fear of living a long life but being struck down by Alzheimer's disease has now been quashed. It has liberated us all to think about the future through the prism of possibilities which could include work, giving back, time with family and friends and the opportunity to stay active, engaged, and productive.
Of course, this isn't yet fact because we're here in 2015, speculating about the future. However, many share the hope and are working hard to turn that hope into a reality: that one of the biggest fears of aging - Alzheimer's disease and other dementias - can be thought of as a thing of the past by the year 2025.