An Example of General Interest Writing on Aging and the Prospects for Treatment

It is always pleasant to see more people writing seriously about aging and medicine, even if they omit what I see as some of the important viewpoints, or fail to end up advocating for massive funding of SENS research so as to make best speed towards an end to age-related frailty and disease. Certainly all too few people are willing to make that last leap at the moment. However, that there is more interest these days in treating aging as a medical condition and in the biological details of aging is a sign that the tide of public awareness is rising. In turn this should mean that it will become ever easier to raise funds in the years ahead - certainly I hope so, since I'll be doing my part to try to pull in grassroots funding for some of the more important lines of early-stage research.

At the grand scale this is all about persuasion, as is the case for all bootstrapped advocacy for a cause. You might recall a scientific study published a few years back on the tipping point of inevitability: where is the line that divides an opinion that remains forever fringe from an opinion that will become mainstream? The researchers suggested that the division is somewhere near 10% of the populace. I think we're getting there for important sections of the public when it comes to support for the medical control of aging in the same sense as the presently mainstream support for the medical control of cancer. Progress along this road accelerates rapidly as the tipping point nears, which is certainly a relief after the painfully slow early stages of talking people around to see common sense on medicine and aging, one individual at a time, and with frequent rejection. Certainly these past two years have seen things moving along at a much faster pace than the decade that preceded them.

Why We Age - Part I: The Evolution Of Aging

If you had to guess how you were going to die, you could narrow it down pretty quickly. It takes only a handful of diseases to account for over half of the deaths of Americans each year. Only five in fact - heart disease, cancer, stroke, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes. Though these disparate diseases affect different organ systems and develop as a result of different mechanisms, they all share a common underlying cause - the aging of the human body. It is aging that is the real killer here - aging kills more people on Earth than anything else. Maybe that's obvious, maybe it's not.

For a condition that kills so many, most of us don't have the slightest understanding of how aging works or why it happens. This series will ask the deceptively simple question, "Why do we age?" To tackle this, we will break this question into three distinct parts: "Why do we age?", "How do we age?", and "Is it possible to live longer?" The first will explore aging from the perspective of evolution, the second will delve into the actual mechanisms within our bodies that cause us to age, and the third will discuss scientific research into lifespan extension.

Why We Age - Part II: A Comprehensive View Of The Aging Process

In general, the biological theories of aging can be split into two types: stochastic and programmed (stochastic just means random). Stochastic theories suggest that damage to our cellular components accumulates over time, leading to functional decline, and ultimately, death. On the other hand, programmed theories propose that aging arises from a set biological timetable, possibly the same one that regulates childhood growth and development.

Though stochastic and program theories are frequently presented as mutually exclusive, in reality they are connected, complementary, and deeply embedded in the interwoven, complex biological network that regulates all of life. To foster a holistic appreciation for the aging process, I will first layout the various theories of aging, and will then connect the pieces to construct a comprehensive map of aging.

Why We Age - Part III: Can We Live Forever?

Amazingly, the most widely studied method of lifespan extension requires no drugs, no supplements, no organ replacement. All that is required is reducing your caloric intake - just eat less. This practice, known as calorie restriction, has been observed to extend the lifespan of many species, from yeast to mice. Remarkably, initial findings have even shown that it can decrease the onset of age-related diseases in primates as well. To be clear, calorie restriction does not mean starving yourself, just reducing your caloric intake from a baseline level, typically by around 30%.

So why does calorie restriction work? From an evolutionary perspective, it is thought that in times of famine, organisms forgo reproducing, instead holding out for more prosperous times. As a result, it is advantageous to up-regulate genes involved in protection and repair and wait for better days to come. Essentially, we have specific genes that sense the availability of nutrients in the environment, and in times of scarcity, slow the process of aging, so that we may reproduce in more favorable conditions.

Comments

Interesting articles. My big fear on longevity are all the "ethical questions" at the end of part 3. Too many people skim read things about aging and just assume mass overpopulation, and uneven distribution to the wealthy only (which is a possibility, I suppose), so they dismiss the subject as a whole. I know the arguments and counterarguments for all the stances, I just hope there aren't treatments developed that get held back for decades because of people wringing their hands.

Posted by: Ham at June 2nd, 2015 5:47 PM

It is nice to see such articles and it seems to indicate a shift in public perception. I do notice that when I talk to people about the idea of longevity and aging intervention many are more accepting of the idea even supportive and in some cases completely agree it is possible. I think one of the most damaging things that goes against the community is Wu and Psudoscience which IMO should be stamped out firmly as it damages the credibility of work by SENS and others.

"Though stochastic and program theories are frequently presented as mutually exclusive, in reality they are connected, complementary, and deeply embedded in the interwoven, complex biological network that regulates all of life. To foster a holistic appreciation for the aging process, I will first layout the various theories of aging, and will then connect the pieces to construct a comprehensive map of aging."

I could not agree with this statement more and I am pleased to see others acknowledge this is the case. I also agree with ADG that we do not need to know everything about aging to intervene but the pressing need is to speed up progress as much as possible.

Question is how can we achieve that as a community and boost the signal?

Posted by: Steve H at June 3rd, 2015 5:13 AM

@Ham agree totally we cannot afford for hand wringers to hold things back because they are worrying about things that have not or may not happen. ADG was right when he said fix aging then worry about issues like overpopulation, pensions etc... we have decades to sort those things out.

Posted by: Steve H at June 3rd, 2015 8:04 AM

I also firmly believe a very solid demonstration in a person (not mice enough with the mice already) of reversal of aging would create the kind of shift in belief and support for aging research that we all hope for. I often feel that SENS for example whilst doing some excellent work could be at the forefront of delivering something that could begin the landslide if they could bring a single therapy to market and demonstrate its efficacy.

Foam cell ablation, Senylotics or another of their promising projects could be prioritized so it can prove it works and provides some benefit, that would do a huge amount in terms of winning hearts and minds.

Yes I know SENS is a suite of therapies, I know SENS generally does basic research in the hope others will run with it but is this really better than being able to take something from bench to bedside and being able to say "look this works and here is the data proving it?" It would do much to silence the doubters and open people's eyes to the fact that aging can be intervened with.

Posted by: Steve H at June 3rd, 2015 9:02 AM

I too would like to see SENS have a good demonstration of something to hopefully accelerate research. One issue with only showing one or two SENS strands seems to be the consensus that "even if you fix X, it may give you a couple years, but you'll die from Y or Z instead" Still, I've been viewing this field as a bridge to bridge kind of thing. I understand the importance of mice, but I agree, I'd like to see results in something else. Too bad probably no one would really allow a willing human to be a guinea pig for some of these things, as I'm sure there would be plenty willing.

But like I said earlier, I really would not doubt people holding (or trying to hold) this stuff back due to their ethical concerns or religious. Or things like pensions. People feel entitled to their pensions, and I can't see many willing to give them up, so that's probably going to be a sticking point for some. I feel like after someone retires, a way around the issue could be that pensions only last for 25-35 years, and after that the retiree is on their own. It shouldn't be too much of an issue, as with increased health and longevity people can work longer or change careers multiple times... This doesn't seem too bad to me, but many people tend to have a sense of entitlement, so we'll see. I've seen plenty of people say they'd rather die than have to work longer, and it will be interesting to see if these people put their money where their mouth is on that issue. I also feel that if there was an aging treatment available here that was held back, there would be probably be chaos like never before. Unless all of the current naysayers really aren't interested... Then that leaves medical tourism. Hopefully.

I will say, it does seem strange to me that now, with all the money going into extending healthspan and longevity, that these companies would be doing this if there was a chance these treatments would be held back, even if they worked as advertised.

Posted by: Ham at June 3rd, 2015 1:41 PM

Thanks interesting article.

The link to part 2 is not working. The problem appears to be on the blog site as the heading to the article on the actual blog is getting a 404 error. ie page cant be found.

Maybe if Mitch sees this he can amend his link and let us know

I will comment on content once I can read all

Thanks

Posted by: David Amer at June 7th, 2015 8:00 PM

@David Amer: Annoying; it was there when I linked to it. The links on that site still point to the same place, but it is now 404ing. Hopefully it will be fixed.

Posted by: Reason at June 7th, 2015 8:29 PM

@Ham: having to work to earn money, retirement and pensions may become a thing of the past too later this century as technology progresses and robots and machine learning take over more and more of our work. It seems inevitable to me that many people of the future will live lives with more leisure than labor. I actually already see that happen more and more when I look around me in my neighborhood and compare to a couple decades ago.
So people's current complaints of having to work longer if we live longer and their fear of losing retirement will probably fade too over time.

There's an active movement to start work towards guaranteed incomes for everyone, regardless of whether you work or not. The words 'retirement' and 'pension' may disappear from our dictionaries and become things of the past independent of the health- and lifespan increase.

A recent reference to this was just a couple days ago in a discussion about how self-driving trucks will put 3.5 million people out of work in the US alone. That's not taking into account the millions that will become idle when self-driving cars take over taxi jobs and what more:
http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-06-24/self-driving-trucks-are-already-driving-highways-near-you

Posted by: Jo Creyf at June 28th, 2015 2:06 PM

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