Rejuvenation Research should be the Highest of Priorities

In this op-ed, Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation argues that finding effective ways to treat the causes of the aging process should be the highest priority for our societies. No other single thing causes anywhere near as much suffering, loss, and death, and yet few resources are devoted to bringing an end to aging. Few people seem to realize just how plausible it is to build rejuvenation therapies in the near future given the present advanced state of biotechnology and medical research. Some of those therapies are under development in startup companies even today, but much more work remains ahead, at present supported only by a low level of funding. So much more could be achieved, and far more rapidly, given sufficient material support.

What is medicine for? Surely an easy question, right? Apparently not. I have always believed that the purpose of medicine is to alleviate the suffering caused by ill-health and death. One must include both, because death itself is very effective in ending the suffering caused by ill-health, and even though there is vibrant debate concerning the appropriate access to assisted suicide, society overwhelmingly adopts the policy that life is sacred and must be extended at virtually all cost. Or does it? There is a bizarre contradiction in our collective approach to the ill-health of old age. On the one hand we are happy to allocate billions upon billions to the quixotic pursuit of extended but functionally impaired life, under the banner of geriatric medicine, but on the other hand we overwhelmingly express deep ambivalence, if not outright opposition, to the idea of future medicine that would actually work - that would entirely abolish those ailments and maintain youthful mental and physical function to much greater chronological ages. When asked to consider such a world, most people are far more inclined to raise concerns about how society would manage the likely side-effect of increased average longevity, than to pay any attention whatever to the prospective alleviation of so much suffering.

The ill-health of old age currently accounts not only for over 70% of deaths worldwide but also for a similar proportion of medical expenditure. In the industrialised world, these numbers are in the region of 90%. What if we had medicine that would prevent the conditions on which all that money is spent? The money would be saved! Sure, the medicines that achieved this prevention would themselves cost money, but there is no reason (not even any hypothetical reason) why prevention should not be better (i.e. cheaper) than cure in this case as it usually is. And that's just the start. Do you, or does anyone you know, have a parent with advanced Alzheimer's or any other age-related chronic disease? How much productivity is lost from the burden of caregiving as a result? It's astronomical. And beyond that, consider the wealth that the elderly could contribute to society if only they remained able-bodied. The economic benefit would be unimaginable.

How is this not completely obvious to everyone? My only explanation is that the powers that be are just as irrational about aging as the rest of society. There can be no doubt that policy-makers are acutely aware of the economic realities that I summarise above, but their decisions are based on their perceptions of the impact on their priorities. And it seems that policy-makers remain convinced that it is not in their interests to inject relatively minuscule sums into research that could pay for itself literally millions of times over. Why? Only two explanations seem available. One is that the reward is further in the future than the current electoral cycle, such that whatever the logic of such a course, it would be against the nearer-term vested interests of the political elite. The other is that these decision-makers truly feel, in spite of all the scientific evidence trumpeted by biogerontologists every day, that the probability of actual success (i.e., of a substantial hastening of the defeat of ageing) from such expenditure really is less than one in a million, thus outweighing the benefit that success would bring. Neither such attitude is remotely excusable.

Link: https://www.opendemocracy.net/neweconomics/anti-aging-medical-research-must-be-our-top-priority/

Comments

It has been observed on this blog before that politicians don't really lead but rather react to public opinion.

And a fountain of youth is one of those funny technologies that no one believes in or thinks about until they see it, perhaps like the steam train or powered flight? Contemporary technological examples are perhaps molten salt nuclear reactors and personal rapid transit systems. They would need around a billion and 10 million for demo systems respectively, but struggle to gain this initial investment.

Silly thought, but could someone use CRISPR on a horse or dog embryo to put a gene for half of a pro drug next to the pk16 gene to allow senescent cells to be removed every fortnight via an oral drug. I think the public might take more notice when they are able to buy 'long life' dogs or polo ponies. Would this admitted media stunt have any effect on public opinion? How much would it cost? Could you kickstart it?

Posted by: jim at September 23rd, 2016 6:09 AM

Hey there !

AdG: ''How is this not completely obvious to everyone?''

THIS.

''The other is that these decision-makers truly feel, in spite of all the scientific evidence trumpeted by biogerontologists every day, that the probability of actual success (i.e., of a substantial hastening of the defeat of ageing) from such expenditure really is less than one in a million, thus outweighing the benefit that success would bring. Neither such attitude is remotely excusable''

It seems it is very remotely excusable. It's a question of finance and risk, until SENS has no therapy made, it can be (to them) all 'vaporware' because
for them it won't be marketable, until, 1. it's made and, 2.proven to work, 3. in humans specifically not in mice. That's why products like metformin
or rapamycin get the billionaire's money, while SENS gets nothing from them. It's sad, they should have get serious eye-to-eye pep talk (almost F-blasted like rotted fish and schooled on aging) about putting money
into 'rapamycin' or other useless venus to 'post-pone the diseases and keep the people healthy', that was creates - at the source (Damage) - these problems
iswhat need - fixing - not patching up diseases. That is how it will defeat aging, they prefer to 'defeat diseases' and forget about aging...kind of like...
But alas this business is capitalistic one and frisky to dip into 'unchartered territory' Of Life Extension by Rejuvenation/Aging Defeat, it's unconceivable in their 'we all die' minds (old human concept since dawn of humanity and hurtful to SENS);
''Aginggggg??? Huh.....Reversingg? It's Impossible!?...We all Die Anyway, Me, I die with Billions...See How Fortunate I am, I have the biggest bank account when I go down and die - I gave a couple Mills to Health Ventures (not SENS, What is SENS????? Stop Being Unsensical) which Save Many Lives by Curing Their Diseases. Aging is something will all face and die of. Thank you''
Sigh...

AdG :

''How is this not completely obvious to everyone?'' Aubrey de Grey, it's obvious that's it's 'Obvious'ly the way to defeat aging, but other less obvious point come in and thus make this rejuvenation route not so straight :
like the failure of health medecine (3 Trillion Dollars), the failure of any therapy so far to reverse aging(really) and the many failed attemps, it's the : ''What Makes You So Special in Your Rejuvenation Attempt - That You Will Succeed ? When thousands others didn't with other methods. God Rest Their Soul''.
In market legalese : They're not ''Buying'' it... (yet).

AdG, and your teams, make it happen (I know it's extremely hard (or even impossible since it costs so much) with no Financing coming in), solid, concrete stuff (but with less monetary Means), be it just reversing aging in mouse and yes, you will no longer torment yourself as to :

''How is this not completely obvious to everyone?''

Posted by: CANanonymity at September 23rd, 2016 7:27 PM

"... No other single thing causes anywhere near as much suffering, loss, and death, and yet few resources are devoted to bringing an end to aging…."

I had always wondered, at least as long as the 3 - 4 years that I have been periodically checking in with this blog, what was so thoroughly frustrating and unfulfilling about its tone. How could I want an 'end (or no end as the case would be)' such as this blog seems to suggest, so much, yet finds it means and values and approaches and arguments so often pedestrian and grass-roots-ish and activism-based -- not ignoble ends in themselves, but…
But on a first reading of today's piece, it became crystal clear: it was its rationale that removing misery was the most compelling reason to undertake any highly technological and society-modifying 'cause'. Nonsense. This is the reason most environmental and socio-economic causes under-perform and fail-to-fund and fail to attract real success. Appeal to the demographic and mind-set of the least ambitious, most sentimental, and emotionally-stagnant parts within us all. We do not seek an end to ageing to reduce misery - we seek an end to ageing because it enables greater potential and opportunity and 'greatness' within us all over a longer period to its realization - whether we realize that possibility or not. Removing failure in the world and enabling success in the world are not two concepts on the same spectrum as many would have you believe. It is a false dichotomy. The absence of failure in the world is not greatness.. it is mere existence. Ending ageing does not have to solve anything, justify its reason to be, or prove that it would not harm society in general, as fascinatingly as this blog seems to want to argue, often unconvincingly. The best reason to end ageing is because it enables our never-ending aspirations, our opportunities for second-chances, and explorations, etc., of the individual, which of itself will likely solve the world's problems along our path to find that success. Dwelling on 'solving' issues is to aspire to little more than normalcy and averageness - a sure definition for failure to improve, innovate or reach new goals. We do not give up research in inspirational sciences - space, physical greatness (athleticism/elitism), aesthetics, etc., at the cost of monies to the poor and diseased and other supposed noble causes, because we are a shallow and self-obsessed (much), but because we fundamentally believe that all research enlarges the pie of human potential and that it is not a zero-sum game. The point is to focus on why ending ageing would promote potential in the world rather than why it would reduce problems. Everyone wants change and reduction of problems but that is a nebulous cloud for which few can agree once they are asked for details - ultimately self-defeating. But saying that longevity will allow each individual new chances and by extension and scaling new opportunities for society is in general is to create a sustainable momentum that is more likely to achieve productive attention than the fear-mongering of decrying the injustice of suffering and decay - as fear and anger is a burdensome emotional state; but awe and promise and inspiration is a low cost and re-inforcing emotional state. Seek not to shame or scare us into ending ageing, but speak out that it is something that each individual and society in general deserves and can aspire to. Of course, it is hard to find that balance in setting a tone that is not pollyanna-ish, preachy, or new-ageish, but simply points out all the successes of the research, opportunities, and potentials coming forth. It is not about solving all the world's problems or claiming that it without risk or cost or side-effect, but just that it is an exciting choice that many will find truly rewarding, and when in aggregate, society-expanding with all the network effects that brings.

Posted by: Jer at September 23rd, 2016 8:21 PM

For much of the public, seeing is believing. And I'm not sure mice living a couple extra years is enough to capture their attention (Though it would work with some scientists). Perhaps extending the lifespan of creature they're familiar with (like a dog, as Jim mentioned, A Great Dane that lives 15 years?) would be enough.

For politicians, as Jim said, they respond to public/financial pressure more than anything. That's why, if I had Thiel money, I'd spend lots on direct research but also lots to lobby govts to support research

Posted by: kel at September 30th, 2016 4:48 PM

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