A Reddit /r/science AMA With S. Jay Olshansky

Researcher S. Jay Olshansky is one of the principals behind the Longevity Dividend initiative, a long-running lobbying and advocacy initiative that seeks to push a great deal more government and philanthropic funding into aging research. The specific focus is on modestly slowing aging via near term interventions with the goal of adding five to seven years to healthy life spans over the next few decades, something I regard as far too unambitious. The TAME metformin study is an example of the Longevity Dividend portfolio, for example. Olshanksy is perhaps the canonical example of a researcher who advocates for longevity science, but thinks that radical life extension of decades or more or the outright defeat of aging is not achievable within our lifetimes, and doesn't think that the SENS approach of damage repair is any better than the mainstream approach of slowing aging. His views are well known within the research community, but it is always interesting to see him talk informally on this topic:

I study the upper limits of longevity and ask which populations are living longer and why, and what that means for society. Living a longer life is a monumental achievement of public health and modern medicine - it is exactly what we set out to achieve more than a hundred years ago when life was short. More people today are living to 65, 85, and 100 and beyond than ever before, but it has created a Faustian trade. In exchange for our longer lives, we now live long enough to experience heart disease, cancer, sensory impairments, and Alzheimer's disease. The fact is that our bodies were not "designed" for long-term use. While improved lifestyles can enhance health and quality of life, the aging process marches on unaltered beneath the surface - leading to the diseases and disorders we fear most. My research focuses on investigating ways to extend the period of healthy life and compress sickness and disease as much as possible to the very end. Recently I have teamed with a group of researchers to study the ability of the diabetes drug metformin to do just that; although metformin is just one of many research pathways scientists are pursuing to slow biological aging. My research suggests that slowing down aging will be the next great public health advance in this century because it targets multiple age-related chronic diseases. Importantly, this approach to public health can save far more health care dollars than treating one disease at a time. The time has arrived to take a new approach to chronic fatal and disabling diseases.

When will an aging intervention come online? No one can know the answer to this question in advance since it takes years to study the safety and efficacy of potential interventions. However, we're no longer talking about something theoretical here. We can observe decelerated aging today in people that, in many cases, may be your friends, relatives, or even yourself. Centenarians today are in all likelihood living that long because their bodies and minds are not really 100+ years old - they might very well be 10, 20 or even 30 years younger. Scientists are studying the genetics of these long-lived subgroups in order to discover (and perhaps recreate) their genetic advantage for the rest of us. It's an exciting time to be involved in aging science, and I'm optimistic that an intervention that slows aging in people will arrive in time to positively influence most people alive today. However, the short answer is no, we're not ready for metformin as the next equivalent of a baby aspirin. We can't know the answer to this until the research is done and the data thoroughly analyzed. While I would encourage everyone to remain excited about this work, keep in mind that no intervention of this kind should be taken today without approval and evaluation by your personal physician. There is a tendency in this field for the entrepreneurs to try and take over as soon as the science offers a glimmer of hope, so I would urge extreme caution. In the interim, please try and help out the world of aging science by following the work and encouraging the effort.

By 2050 I'd be surprised if we could achieve anything more than a few years of additional healthy life, even with a breakthrough in aging science. This may not sound like much, but keep in mind that in long lived populations, it takes very large reductions in death rates to achieve even a 1 year increase in life expectancy. A 1 year increase in healthy life expectancy is even more difficult to achieve. My personal view here is that if we continue with the current medical model of attacking one disease at a time, we will not see an extension of healthy, but instead, the exact opposite - a prolongation of the period of frailty and disability. This is the very reason we're working so hard now to change the culture of thinking on this topic.

The idea that the first person to live to 150 or 200 or 1,000 or 10,000 years has already being born is hype cooked up by some who want to advocate for radical life extension. All of these numbers are made up out of thin air - they're designed to get the attention of the media, and frankly, this makes it more difficult to get funding for aging science because funders have no interest in creating a new set of challenges that would come with people living for hundreds or thousands of years. Keep in mind that life extension is not the primary goal of aging science; health extension is the primary goal. Aubrey de Grey is a friend, but we do have healthy disagreements. We need this kind of open dialogue in science, and it should be conducted with respect and decorum. Having said that, don't expect radical life extension any time soon. Think about it for a moment. Even if you had an intervention in hand that could make people live for 1,000 years, how could anyone prove that using the tools of science? You would have to wait for 1,000 years to make that statement, which is why I say that anyone making these claims is making up numbers out of thin air. The fact is, even if a genuine magical elixir found its way into anyone's lab, the scientist who discovered it wouldn't know its effect - even if the intervention could talk and declare its effectiveness. Our goals in aging science must be measurable using the tools of science!

I've listened to my friend Aubrey de Grey speak many times. He's quite good, right up until the last 15 minutes when he starts talking about escape velocity and 1,000 year lifespans and made up numbers. It's somewhat difficult to ignore the very point that Aubrey emphasizes. With regard to his effort to reverse or repair the damage caused by aging rather than delaying it, I'm hopeful that he's right. No one can know whether his approach will work until it's tested, which is what I like about Aubrey. He's not selling anything yet - he's operating within the bounds of science and setting forth testable research hypotheses. I think Aubrey's work, or at least the 7 deadlies idea he supports, should be one of the projects pursued by the Longevity Dividend Initiative, but like everyone else, this science would have to survive peer review.

I'm actually pleased that Google's Calico and Venter's Human Longevity have come into the mix. Competition is good; the presence of funds to accelerate aging is good; there are a lot of outstanding scientists already in this field, and I expect we'll soon attract many more. It's the next great frontier of human biology. Having said that, I'm very careful about claims that are made here, which is why I shy away from exaggeration and I think the rest of us should as well. Someone will eventually develop a breakthrough in the field, and when that happens, it will fundamentally change the way in which we think about aging, disease and longevity. Someone will win the race, and perhaps there will be more than one winner, but when that happens, we all win. The fact that there is a race at all is what is so exciting now. While I don't expect 120 is in the cards, I do expect many of us to benefit from an intervention that extends our healthy life and preserves our youthful vigor for a longer period of time. I expect the competition to go on even after the first intervention makes its way into the marketplace. I see a healthy sector moving forward.

This may very well become the next great public health paradigm - we made the case for this in 2008. We are in fact going to high net worth individuals with the suggestion that they can get in on the ground floor of what could prove to be one of the most important accomplishments in medicine in the modern era. Just as Bill Gates has made his impact in public health by attacking infectious diseases in the developing world - and there are very few examples like this - we expect someone to step up to the plate and make a declaration just like President Kennedy did years ago when he decided to send someone to the moon and return them safely. The time has arrived to fundamentally change the way in which we attack disease, and once done, it's fairly easy to make the case that the modern era will have witnessed one of its greatest accomplishments. I don't think the money for this effort will come from governments (not enough funds and too slow); it's going to come from a high net worth individual with a vision and the funds to back it up. The question now is, who will it be?

Link: https://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/4eqnyf/im_s_jay_olshansky_an_epidemiologist_at_the/

Comments

"Think about it for a moment. Even if you had an intervention in hand that could make people live for 1,000 years, how could anyone prove that using the tools of science? You would have to wait for 1,000 years to make that statement, which is why I say that anyone making these claims is making up numbers out of thin air".

What's wrong with this guy?

If the mortality rate of a group of 90 year olds becomes the same of that of 25 year olds, you have a good indication that barring some weird accelerated aging phenomenon (e.g. a nonagenarian who has had the biology / mortality rate of a twenty-something for a decade wakes up one morning to be physiologically 90 again), 1000 years is indeed going to be the point in time when half of that cohort has died.

If Olshansky wants to refute de Grey's life expectancy claims he should try and be a bit more sophisticated in his arguments because the way he is going about it here would sound iffy even to a middle schooler.

Posted by: Barbara T. at April 15th, 2016 8:14 AM

@Barbara: Yeah, and it's even worse when you consider that Olshansky is a demographer. He should know better.

Posted by: Antonio at April 15th, 2016 8:51 AM

"I think Aubrey's work, or at least the 7 deadlies idea he supports, should be one of the projects pursued by the Longevity Dividend Initiative, but like everyone else, this science would have to survive peer review."

So... they will only support it when all R&D is done and no support is needed anymore, it isnt?

Posted by: Antonio at April 15th, 2016 8:57 AM

You folks already picked off the easy ones, but here's what gets me:

"My personal view here is that if we continue with the current medical model of attacking one disease at a time..."

And right there he just sabotaged any credibility he might have had. He goes after de Grey for supposedly being unscientific and then he claims to want something other than a medical model of targeting specific diseases? So much for his "measurable with the tools of science" BS; if it doesn't influence specific pathologies, it's not measurable with the tools of science!

Just to be clear: fixing any of the seven deadly SENS will have impacts on pathology. People aren't trying to remove senescent cells just because they feel like it.

Posted by: Slicer at April 15th, 2016 12:31 PM

I see Aubrey himself has waded into the converstion/argument at a few points (his Reddit handle is 'ag24ag24'):

"Let's consider what Jay is saying here. First of all, he's saying that no one will reach the age of 1000 for over 900 years - clearly true. But then he starts going on about proof, inserting the word "science" as if that gave him a free pass to claim that these numbers are being made up. Consider vintage cars. There are quite a few cars around that are over 100 years old, but none that are over 200 years old, because cars were invented too recently. But if you ask a vintage car enthusiast whether most of the currently 100yo cars will still be around in another 100 years, is he entitled to have an opinion on that? Of course he is. (And as it happens, the opinion will be in the affirmative, because there is plenty of evidence that today's 100yo cars are working every bit as well as when they were only 50yo.) Is that opinion derived using the tools of science? That depends on your definitions. Which means, it's the wrong question."

https://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/4eqnyf/im_s_jay_olshansky_an_epidemiologist_at_the/d241vct

Posted by: Jim at April 15th, 2016 3:33 PM

Hey all !

I read the reddit comments and it was eye-opening to say the least. I'm happy that
Aubrey answered to Mr.Olshansky with the rusting/maintain/repair car analogy he brought up any times (because it is one of the best
and easiest analogy to remember).

The comments ranged from : 'overpopulation, loss of resources if LE (life extension) is feasible,
LE is unfeasible, only healthspan increase is feasible, healthspan and lifespan all mixed up concepts,
lifespan is limited, healthspan is in itself unlimited - but limited by lifespan limit, no matter how much health rejuvenation,
lifespan limits the maximum of that healthspan infinity. The maximum lifespan cannot be increased ever because it is limited and that's it.
Any intervention (like SENS) may improve health, but any of the diseases will come back (like at 110 years old and you die suddenly of a pneumonia, living one day, dead the next)
and finish the person. The maximal lifespan (of 120 years) is unshakeable/unmovable by any interventions.
The LEV longevity escape velocity by rejuvenation is de Grey pure conjecture, fluff and theory, that will never happen and no one will ever live to a 1000 years (not a 1000 years at least).

Well...I don't necessarily agree with them. Although,
it has been said, it is better to be talked about, than not at all.
Thus, bad press, good press. It's all good, as long as you are ignored and invisible.

''Think about it for a moment. Even if you had an intervention in hand that could make people live for 1,000 years, how could anyone prove that using the tools of science? You would have to wait for 1,000 years to make that statement, which is why I say that anyone making these claims is making up numbers out of thin air. The fact is, even if a genuine magical elixir found its way into anyone's lab, the scientist who discovered it wouldn't know its effect - even if the intervention could talk and declare its effectiveness''
I don't believe you would have to wait a 1000 years no.
To be 100% sure, yes, but if we are capable of rejuvenating a mouse to reach age that of naked mole rat;
this is a clear sign, that a 1000 year lifespan is soon happening.
Start with small, make a mouse live 10, 100x times its life...than apply that to higher/longer lived animals.
The first immortal mouse is needed. Hopefully, rejuvenation will do that.

Olshansky, is more realist, using important statistics, is that is understandable/to not create false hope but we must also have optimism, but just like he
says about being friends with AdG, but thinkg AdG is deluding himself if the first 1000 year old person is born today or that we (alive today)
will reach that. I believe in AdG's LEV, but I explained reasons why it may falter (not that I want it to, I really want it to work (for everyone and to have health eternal life, all of us),
it is based on science and thus has merit. but in 'application' it may falter or give lackluster results than what AdG predicted from LEV paper).

I also understand why people who don't understand that AdG LEV paper could not be infaillible and 'touches all forms of damage thus will allow LEV immortality if we do rejuvenation to keep a 75-year old 20 year old biologically forever...'
It's more complicated than that sadly. I also specified that the 7 therapies do not cover all damages
(such telomeric damage, mitochondrial DNA iron-fenton reaction continuous 'aging mechanism' in the mt innermembranes (creating lipid peroxidation aldehyde chain), etc there are other damage problems that are pernicious and not covered...)

The way I see it, is it's 50/50..as AdG said, comprehensive enough that it could along a long healthy life..will it allow a human to go above (MLSP) maximum lifespan; possible no, even if we rejuvenate it (as per LEV paper says).
It still stands, that damage must be wiped out to live above MLSP, and 7 therapies may not cover that.

But, we have to support AdG and whatever rejuvenation there is; there is (most likely) nothing else that will save us in our lifetime. We solved the riddle to aging/death (nearly 99%) with SENS, now we have to apply/transfer it to us.

Posted by: CANanonymity at April 15th, 2016 9:40 PM

Ps: typo.

Thus, bad press, good press. It's all good, as long as you are *not* ignored and invisible.

Posted by: CANanonymity at April 15th, 2016 9:43 PM

Pps: I still stand by my stance that oxidative stress redox biochemistry is the partial solution if SENS ends up way below its goal mark (like many other therapies who set out big in expectations and finish small in results). Redox homeostasis maintenance would allow humans to live way above their specie MLSP. Probably not 1000 years, but something like giant sea turtle's age of 255 years or bowhead whale of 211 years old. With extreme maintenance we might reach bivalve age of 523 years. These extreme animal lifespan are real and their redox biochemistry is major reason.

Posted by: CANanonymity at April 15th, 2016 10:30 PM

Decades ago, a man stares at 2-D printer, saying that science will enhance it. Standing next to him is a friend predicting a 3-D printer, not just a better 2-D model. Man calls friend a dreamer. Someone eventually works hard enough to merge dream and reality. Decades later, 2-D printer still exists; 3-D printer is born, becomes mainstream. Dream meets reality, and welcome to the present day.

Decades from now, dramatic extensions in lifespan will seem as outlandish and "impossible" as formulating a new antibiotic. Along the way, we can have a 2-D printer mentality, or one that can envision a third dimension. And while skepticism may safeguard against fraudulence, it will never be the driving force of creating what has yet to exist. "It can happen", followed by "I will find a way", are the thoughts that create the future; "It's not possible", followed by "I would be foolish to think that I, or anyone else, can make it happen", are the thoughts that will (attempt to) grind the future to a screeching halt.

Keep up the good work, Aubrey/SENS/FightAging/and all of the hard working dreamers with a 3-D mentality, making this come to life. It is possible and science will find a way.

Posted by: Adam at April 16th, 2016 12:40 PM

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