Longevity science, work on the foundations of rejuvenation therapies to extend healthy life, isn't a special snowflake in any way. It isn't magically separate, distinct, and remote from other areas of medicine. It has exactly the same goals, which are to prevent suffering and death. It builds upon the same modern understanding of cellular biochemistry. Also, just like near all medical research, it is ignored by most people most of the time, despite the fact that everyone's future health is absolutely dependent on advances in medical science.
Medicine is pivotal, and yet you might not think so given the tiny fraction of a fraction of overall expenditures that we devote to the task of improving medical technologies, of building new and better treatments. Every improvement in the technologies of health that we rely upon here and now was constructed with scraps and leftovers of funding, accomplished in spite of a vast and bland indifference on the part of the public at large. Vast sums are devoted to decorations and frivolity in place of building better medicine. It is unfortunately human nature to fixate upon circuses, politics, and distractions, on things that matter very little in comparison to the life and death work of finding cures for fatal medical conditions.
Fatal medical conditions such as degenerative aging, for example. The one that everyone suffers from, and which will kill more than nine-tenths of everyone you know, after decades of increasing pain and disability, should you be fortunate enough to live in one of the wealthier parts of the world. Going by the way most people act, this isn't a big deal. Even the most horrible situations will be accepted, even defended, if they happen to be the long-standing present status quo, and aging is perhaps the best example of this phenomenon. If you didn't have it, would you volunteer for it? The years of decline and pain, the corrosion of the mind, the eventual drawn out death? That would be crazy. Yet you don't have to wander far today to find people praising aging and eventual death as a wonderful and proper set of circumstances.
Kicking our societies out of the present status quo and into a better one is left to the rebels, the iconoclasts, and other varieties of unreasonable visionary. This has been underway in earnest for decades now in the matter of bringing aging under medical control, and change is coming. The ranks of those willing to speak out and act are growing, both within and outside the life science community. There are still all too many people who see at least a little of the possibilities for the future but do nothing but hope in private, however. Hope on its own achieves nothing: the future you desire won't just happen by itself. The future is what we choose to build, and those who act are those who build it.
The idea of people [routinely] living deep into their 70s is relatively new, dating back, according to World Bank statistics, to only the 1960s in the U.S. In developing parts of the world, that long of a life is still a dream. But today, enterprising scientists and brash thinkers are considering a life far longer, pondering a future where people in all parts of the globe regularly live deep into their 100s. Research institutes (such as the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in California), charitable foundations (like the SENS Research Institute and Glenn Foundation for Medical Research) as well as companies (like Google) are all pouring money into work to understand, counteract and delay aging.
This idea, immortality, has been around seemingly forever. What's different about it today, this quest?
What makes discussions about radical life extension, I think, different today is that it's transcended the spiritual realm, it's transcended the supernatural. It was something that didn't really have any basis in science or technology, it was more of a longing, a desire to live forever whether it be in this world or in some alternate world. The big difference now of course is that we're starting to have a sense of the technologies, the science, that could make this happen.
But isn't that something that every generation believes - that they're closer than ever to solving aging? Can you convince a cynic that there's something real here?
I think there is a big difference between what we're accomplishing today as opposed to what was done a hundred or two hundred years ago. We are actually, over the last hundred years - actually, specifically, even maybe the last 50 - we're starting to develop medical technologies that are genuinely prolonging life. Whether it be such things as antibiotics and vaccines, and even things like surgery and now artificial organs and so on -most recently of course the advent of stem cells and regenerative medicine. These are on an order of scale far different than what we've seen in the past. We have seen the first developments of bona fide life-extension technologies.
It seems like most of the people seeking to fight aging, they're tech guys, not doctors. It's not like they're a minority of doctors, they're a completely different community.
There are many reasons the medical community would wish to shy away from this conversation. One, this is still very fringe. It's not something accepted in the medical community that you could actually cure aging. Aging is not even looked at as a disease, for example. This is the paradigm shift that's currently happening - yes, we are looking at it as a disease that can be defeated. That's the shift that is going to have to be made within the medical community.
Right now, each and every specialist, whether they are looking at neurological disorders or looking at cardiovascular problems, or diabetes or what have you, they're very focused on that particular area and they don't necessarily see the big picture of it all. Yet the irony of it is that every one of these specialists is contributing to what will be a therapy that will be used to prolong life. This would be a suite of therapies that would tackle every facet of aging, and as we know, we're learning on a regular basis that aging is a multifaceted process that affects so many different parts of our bodies.
Eventually I think that once we get over the inhibition or the taboo of talking about radical life extension, and the idea that we can live forever, I think we'll see the medical community and individuals in medicine start to talk a bit more openly and frankly about the possibilities. It'll start to become ridiculous not to do so.
Take the haves and the have-nots: As these technologies come out, who will have access to them and who won't? You have to assume those with money will probably have access to them.
As we've seen time and time again, the first generation or two of any technological development, whether it be a gadget that you can get at your technological store, whether it be medical advances, is pretty much reserved for those who have the money to pay for it. So I think that it's good that we're talking about it now. It surely shouldn't be something that will preclude these technologies from being developed.
The mentality that if a few people can't have it, nobody should be able to have it, is really a facile argument and really should be shoved away as quickly as possible. The larger issue is how quickly can we make these technologies available to as wide a group of people as is possible, that's absolutely fundamental to this discussion.
Be someone who acts, that's my advice. Find a way to help, and then do so, whether that is raising funds for SENS rejuvenation research, or persuading a friend to see aging in a different light, or writing for the public at large. The more of us there are, the shorter the span of time between now and the first therapies that will control, halt, and reverse the consequences of aging.