An Example of the Glaring Lack of Ambition in Aging Research

The mainstream of aging research, at least in public, is characterized by a profound lack of ambition when it comes to treating aging as a medical condition. Researchers talk about slightly altering the trajectory of aging as though that is the absolute most that is possible, the summit of the mountain, and are in many cases ambivalent when it comes to advocating for even that minimal goal. It is this state of affairs that drove Aubrey de Grey and others into taking up advocacy and research, given that there are clear paths ahead to rejuvenation, not just a slight slowing of aging, but halting and reversing the causes of aging. Arguably embracing rejuvenation research programs would in addition cost less and take a much shorter span of time to produce results, since these programs are far more comprehensively mapped out than are efforts to produce drugs to alter the complex operations of metabolism so as to slightly slow the pace at which aging progresses. It is most frustrating to live in a world in which this possibility exists, yet is still a minority concern in the research community. This article is an example of the problem, in which an eminent researcher in the field takes a look at a few recently published books on aging research, and along the way reveals much about his own views on aging as an aspect of the human condition that needs little in the way of a solution. It is a terrible thing that people of this ilk are running the institutes and the funding bodies: this is a field crying out for disruption and revolution in the name of faster progress towards an end to aging.

How can we overcome our niggling suspicion that there is something dubious, if not outright wrong, about wanting to live longer, healthier lives? And how might we pursue longer lives without at the same time falling prey to quasiscientific hype announcing imminent breakthroughs? In order to understand why aging is changing, and what this means for our futures, we need to learn more about the aging process itself. As a biologist who specializes in aging, I have spent more than four decades on a quest to do exactly this. Not only have I asked why aging should occur at all (my answer is encapsulated in a concept called disposability theory), but I have also sought to understand the fastest-growing segment of the population - those aged 85 and above. The challenges inherent in understanding and tackling the many dimensions of aging are reflected in a clutch of new books on the topic. Are these books worth reading? Yes and no. They take on questions like: Can we expect increases in human longevity to continue? Can we speed them up? And, on the personal level, what can we do to make our own lives longer and healthier? If nothing else, these books and their varied approaches reveal how little we actually know.

To find out more about factors that can influence our individual health trajectories across ever-lengthening lives, my colleagues and I began, in 2006, the remarkable adventure of the still ongoing Newcastle 85+ Study, an extremely detailed investigation of the complex medical, biological, and social factors that can affect a person's journey into the outer reaches of longevity. For each individual, we determined whether they had any of 18 age-related conditions (e.g., arthritis, heart disease, and so on). Sadly, not one of our 85-year-olds was free of such illnesses. Indeed, three quarters of them had four or more diseases simultaneously. Yet, when asked to self-rate their health, an astonishing 78 percent - nearly four out of five - responded "good," "very good," or "excellent." This was not what we had expected. The fact that these individuals had so many age-related illnesses fit, of course, with the popular perception of the very old as sadly compromised. But the corollary to this perception - that in advanced old age life becomes a burden, both to the individuals themselves and to others - was completely overturned. Here were hundreds of old people, of all social classes and backgrounds, enjoying life to the fullest, and apparently not oppressed by their many ailments.

As for my stake in the enterprise, I began investigating aging when I was in my early 20s - well before I had any sense of my own body aging. Quite simply, I was curious. What is this mysterious process, and why does it occur? Everything else in biology seems to be about making things work as well as they can, so how is it that aging destroys us? Now that I am growing older myself, my research helps me understand my own body and reinforces the drive to live healthily - to eat lightly and take exercise - though not at the cost of eliminating life's pleasures. For all that I have learned about aging, my curiosity remains unabated. Indeed, it has grown stronger, partly because as science discovers more about the process, it reveals that there is ever more to learn, ever greater complexity to unravel, and partly because I am now my own subject: through new physical and psychological experiences in myself, I learn more about what older age is really like. I know all too well that the next phase of my life will bring unwelcome changes, and of course it must end badly. But the participants of the Newcastle 85+ Study have shown me that the journey will not be without interest.



Kirkwood is typical in lack of ambition of these traditional gerontologists. Another example is that Colin Blakemoor another joker. Most increases in lifespan is their aim and rubbish like Healthspan. Thankfully more researchers seem to be moving beyond that and considering the possibilities of more robust rejuvenation. Scientific progress advances one dead scientist at a time, the sooner these primadonas move aside and stop stiffling research the better.

Posted by: Steve Hill at October 5th, 2016 7:41 AM

Extending life might cross a moral line? Whose morals are we basing this on here? I'm so tired of this stigma and how it's almost frowned upon for daring to want to live a longer and healthier life.

Posted by: Ham at October 5th, 2016 8:58 AM

We see here the usual mess about possibility and desirability. It's not desirable because it's not possible (thus, trying to do something about aging is "falling prey to quasiscientific hype" and bringing false hope to people) and it's not possible because it's not desirable (thus, people don't get funding for developing antiaging interventions because they will cause overpopulation or because old people say they are pretty well and they are enjoying life and all that).

Posted by: Antonio at October 5th, 2016 9:54 AM

@ Ham : religious morals. Traditional "All came from the dust and all return to the dust". The world is still mostly backward.

Posted by: Spede at October 5th, 2016 1:33 PM

Yeah, I get it. I just wish those morals would stop being pushed on everyone else by their proponents I guess.

Posted by: Ham at October 5th, 2016 4:16 PM

Hi ! Oh......

''As a biologist who specializes in aging, I have spent more than four decades on a quest to do exactly this''

This is a bit Ponce de Leon never finding the holy grail eternal elixir, it was in vain.

For me this is good and bad omen, I have a feeling history will repeat itself (not that I want it),
this could be Aubrey de Grey's words in 40 years - I so hope it's not the case. But,
SENS started in 2000s, 17 years later almost and no mouse is rejuvenated yet, 40 seems a small number
in the grand scheme of things. SENS could take something like 50 or 75 years (sh...!)
Showing that AdG could be another Kirkwood person saying these same words in 4 decades.
Rejuvenation is a solution, but time is sadly amiss,
most of us will be 60 or 80 by then when
7 therapies are done (or dead). :(.

But Let's hope and keep on supporting it with more money/donations. As many have said, It's not believing in it,
it's when and if it will happen that make us lose hope a bit more as the years go by.
Time erodes everything even the hardiest hope, but what else is there to do (but hope and keep on keeping' on hoping).
It makes me think of a single who lived all his/her life 'hoping' to find that woman/man and be happy. And
one day that single dies, single. It never happened despite all the hope he/she held inside.
That is a bit my pessimism tainting on my optimism I guess.

Sigh. We are 1 generation too late I guess, but if we can at least benefit from SENS before 75 it will be at least still worth it.

''I began investigating aging when I was in my early 20s - well before I had any sense of my own body aging''

That long ago ? What does that say....

''I know all too well that the next phase of my life will bring unwelcome changes, and of course it must end badly. But the participants of the Newcastle 85+ Study have shown me that the journey will not be without interest. ''

These words make me think, Can SENS get Soon(er) Enough ?! I don't want to say these words when I'm there (and if I even reach that...)

Time is everything. Time is money. Money is Time. Aging is Time. Time is Aging. Aging is Money. Money is Aging....

Posted by: CANanonymity at October 5th, 2016 5:30 PM

For medical researchers not yet on board with biorejuvenative-medicine, won't they inevitably hit a brick wall in their own research? It seems today's medicine is giving us smaller and smaller returns, so a demonstration of bodily rejuvenation wouldn't even have to be robust, just enough to outperform the paltry returns of what we have now. Or would they just continue pursuing dead-ends in spite of the evidence?

Posted by: Eric at October 9th, 2016 12:45 AM

''I know all too well that the next phase of my life will bring unwelcome changes, and of course it must end badly. But the participants of the Newcastle 85+ Study have shown me that the journey will not be without interest. ''

All the secrets and the answers to changing the human aging paradigm are found when the current human organism is at its optimum biological and genetic optimum function - sexual maturity and the child rearing years. Optimum evolution has provided for the species endurance, the individual is indeed disposable

Unfortunately, most aging research is focused on geriatrics at the end of life where all the things we didn't want to know about aging are happening to the body. There is little is really very little to be learned about focusing on the elderly - other to establish end points, decline rates/genetic errors accumulated in reaching old age. If we want to find solutions the aging process we need to focus on maintaining youth and or the mechanisms to revert older bodies back to that condition. The idea of understanding why some live to be 100 instead of an avg. age of 70-75 is a near complete waste of time, because most of us don't want to live in either of those age groups even active and healthy for those age groups. We want to live at our primes post sexual maturity and child rearing years of 18 to mid 30s. If there was any sense of urgency in anti-aging research, we would see far more focus and prioritization on mimicking the genetic controlling and reversion to the processes of youth.

It is clear from current research and the lack of any real demonstrable progress in the last four decades - that there is little prioritization of research into the most promising avenues of preventing and or reversing aging processes. Symptoms of this lack of prioritization (lack of clear direction) are the far too many dabblers in the field diluting available research funds. Even more so, far too much interference from big pharma funding in development of drugs to mask the symptoms of aging (rather than preventing them) because curing has never been target model for big pharma, because curing doesn't make them so much money as treating and encouraging more (side effect) symptoms.

Given the current lack of priority, direction, and intelligent funding in anti-aging research we are much farther from solutions than we imagine or that we are encouraged to believe. Again, not one meaningful specific anti-aging product in four decades of research that would extend the optimum years of the human life.

Posted by: Mason Hamilton at October 9th, 2016 9:34 AM
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