Over on the other side of our still quite modestly sized longevity science community you will find the network that includes Deep Knowledge Ventures, the Biogerontology Research Foundation, and the Aging Analytics Agency, source of the report I'll point out today. "Other side" is a relative term; it isn't far, and you'll recognize many of the names as also being involved in the US research and advocacy ventures more often mentioned here. Portions of our community have long pursued an interest in mapping the initiatives, people, and funding involved in aging research; see the International Aging Research Portfolio, for example. As the fields of geroscience and rejuvenation research have solidified and gathered increasing support, producing an overview of research aimed at the treatment of aging has become a sizable task. That point is well illustrated by the large first volume of the Longevity Industry Landscape Overview series, to be followed up by another four volumes in 2018, and then, if I understand the intent correctly, to be updated yearly going forward. It represents an imposing amount of work, and those involved are to be thanked for their dedication.
This sort of undertaking might be viewed as the building of a foundation, laying a part of the groundwork needed for large-scale investment in the future, particularly from governments and other entities capable of devoting enormous resources to a task (albeit usually clumsily, wastefully, and late). Organizations of that nature tend not to move at all until the topic at hand is buried beneath paper, committees, and years of consideration. All that the relevant functionaries know comes from digests and reports such as the Longevity Industry Landscape Overview, not first-hand understanding. At present the industry of treating aging is just moving out of the laboratory and into the stage of startup companies and handshake deals on investment, of funds whose principals can educate themselves on the science, and of people willing to make leaps of faith and risk. Somewhere in the future, that will slow down and become far more conservative; far greater sums will be moved around as treatments to modestly slow aging and treatments to repair the damage of aging move into the mainstream medical system.
Regarding the science, the first volume quoted here is a set of disparate views on how to proceed, from the pharmaceutical metabolic manipulation to slow aging that characterizes the geroscience community to the SENS vision of regenerative medicine applied to aging, the periodic repair of the cell and tissue damage that causes aging. There is no integration between these different paths ahead, because there really can't be; the purpose is to show the diversity of opinions in the context of a young and rapidly growing industry, not smooth over the sizable differences and many disagreements on the best approach to take. In the years ahead, the evidence from studies in mice and humans will guide the way. The best approaches will stand out and be taken forward to the clinic - just so long as we, the advocates, manage to argue well and raise sufficient philanthropic funding to allow the most promising studies to be carried out in the first place. Standing aside and letting matters progress without that intervention isn't an option, as it only leads to years of unnecessary delay.
For scientists, policy makers, regulators, government officials, investors and other stakeholders, a consensus understanding of the field of human longevity remains fragmented, and has yet to be systematized by any coherent framework, and has not yet been the subject of a comprehensive report profiling the field and industry as a whole by any analytical agency to date. Experts on the subject of human longevity, who tend arrive at the subject from disparate fields, have failed even to agree on a likely order of magnitude for future human lifespan. Those who foresee a 100-year average in the near future are considered extreme optimists by some, while others have even mooted the possibility of indefinite life extension through comprehensive repair and maintenance. As such the longevity industry has often defied real understanding and has proved a complex and abstract topic in the minds of many, investors and governments in particular.
A report entitled 'The Science of Longevity', standing at almost 800 pages in length, seeks to rectify this. Part 1 of the report ties together the progress threads of the constituent industries into a coherent narrative, mapping the intersection of biomedical gerontology, regenerative medicine, precision medicine, and artificial intelligence, offering a brief history and snapshot of each. Part 2 lists and individually profiles 650 longevity-focused entities, including research hubs, non-profit organizations, leading scientists, conferences, databases, books and journals. Infographics are used to illustrate where research institutions stand in relation to each other with regard to their disruptive potential: companies and institutions specialising in palliative technologies are placed at the periphery of circular diagrams, whereas those involved with more comprehensive, preventative interventions, such as rejuvenation biotechnologies and gene therapies, are depicted as central.
Since these reports are being spearheaded by the UK's oldest biomedical charity focused on healthspan extension, the Biogerontology Research Foundation is publishing them online, freely available to the public. While the main focus of this series of reports is an analytical report on the emerging longevity industry, the reports still delve deeply into the science of longevity, and Volume I is dedicated exclusively to an overview of the history, present and future state of ageing research from a scientific perspective. Volume 2, is set to be published shortly thereafter, and will focus on the companies and investors working in the field of precision preventive medicine with a focus on healthy longevity, which will be necessary in growing the industry fast enough to avert the impending crisis of global aging demographics.
These reports will be followed up throughout the coming year with Volume 3 ("Special Case Studies"), featuring 10 special case studies on specific longevity industry sectors, such as cell therapies, gene therapies, AI for biomarkers of aging, and more, Volume 4 ("Novel Longevity Financial System"), profiling how various corporations, pension funds, investment funds and governments will cooperate within the next decade to avoid the crisis of demographic aging, and Volume 5 ("Region Case Studies"), profiling the longevity industry in specific geographic regions.
The greatest problem threatening global economic prosperity and social stability is demographic aging. The only sustainable solution is to extend healthy lifespan (healthspan). Clearly it would be desirable to add life to our years rather than merely years to our lives. But few are aware that health span extension is becoming routine in the laboratory. Scientific breakthroughs have demonstrated up to 30% increased healthspan extension in mice, and much more in non-mammalian model organisms by various pharmacological, environmental, and genetic interventions. In recent years, scientists have elucidated the fundamental mechanisms or hallmarks of aging, opening the field of geroscience - the understanding and manipulation of the fundamental biological processes in age-related disease.
The widest ceiling over the aspirations of geroscience has always been the inextricability of disease from aging and the inextricability of aging from human metabolism, which, being so complex and integral to our day-to-day functioning, can only be amended rather than reconstructed. This limits us because it robs us of the most obvious approach to radical life extension: radical interference in human metabolism. For just as we might like to be able to alter a car's inner workings so that they inflict less wear and tear, so too might we like to be able to somehow rearrange metabolism so that it inflicts less wear and tear on body tissues.
Sadly this is not an option. While subtle interventions in areas such as calorie restriction mimetics hold some promise to appreciably increase life expectancy, anything amounting to a successful radical intervention in metabolism which radically extends life span is inconceivable for the foreseeable future for the above reasons. This brings us to the alternative approach to vehicle longevity: repair and maintenance. Which in human terms means the continuous restoration of human tissues, irrespective of the various processes that age them.
These two approaches differ starkly. The former could be thought of as like meddling with the inner mechanisms of a clock, cogs and all, in order to slow it down. The latter could be imagined as forcing back the hands of a clock, setting back the progress, while inner clockwork, the process, remains unaffected. In human terms 'setting back the hands' means taking knowledge obtained by geroscience, fashioning it into a damage report and devising a repair strategy. And just as setting back a clock does not require the same extensive knowledge of horology as would be involved with meddling with the clockwork, nor does the restoration of aging tissue require an unfeasibly extensive knowledge of geroscience, only enough to enumerate the manifest differences between old and young tissue. So could we then aspire to repair these enumerated damages comprehensively enough and rapidly enough to appreciably postpone disease? In other words might there be an extent to which we can afford to allow aging to proceed as it normally does while simultaneously clearing up the damage it leaves behind, kicking the can disease down the road?
We are in effect describing the application of regenerative medicine to aging. Regenerative medicine is an area of biotechnology which aims to restore damaged tissues and organs. So why not tissues and organs damaged by the miscellaneous ravages of age?