Today, the effective treatment of aging can only proceed rapidly as an engineering project. The fine details of the way in which aging progresses at the level of cells and proteins are far from fully understood - but that is not a roadblock to progress. The research community knows enough of the causes of aging to repair them and observe the results. In fact the repair approach, where it has been tried, and as typified by senolytic development to clear senescent cells, is doing far more, with far less expenditure, and in far less time, than other strategies that involve mapping and adjusting the extreme complexity of cellular metabolism.
A good analogy for this situation is that sizable bridges and other large structures were constructed on an empirical basis for millennia prior to a full understanding of materials science, prior to the implementation of computational modeling in architecture. In exactly the same way it is possible to make meaningful progress in the treatment of aging today, and because aging causes far more harm than any other aspect of the human condition, it is our ethical imperative to make that progress rather than waiting on greater understanding of how exactly aging and metabolism interact in detail.
Biomedical gerontologist Aubrey de Grey says he believes that, thanks to imminent advances in technology, the first person to live to age 1,000 likely is alive today. De Grey became interested in studying the biological aspects of aging, he says, because he views its negative effects, such as chronic pain and memory loss, as preventable. While he is focused on improving quality of life, he says longevity is a "side effect" of good health. He helped to found the SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) Research Foundation, a regenerative medical research nonprofit that focuses on preventing diseases and disabilities related to aging.
Living much longer lives will happen soon, de Grey contends, challenging the notion that aging is inevitable or even natural. Radiologist Joon Yun agrees. Yun is president and managing partner of Palo Alto Investors. His family foundation has sponsored a number of initiatives and made a US $2 million gift to launch the National Academy of Medicine's Healthy Longevity Grand Challenge, to "solve aging" as he puts it. Like de Grey, he says he is focused on improving quality of life so that people will be able to continue their active lifestyles without any trouble, no matter their age.
There are many opportunities in tissue engineering, stem-cell therapy, and immunotherapy. One of the projects the SENS Research Foundation is working on involves "death resistant cells," which cause degenerative aging. These cells cause loss of muscle mass, inflammation, and metabolic changes. The foundation is looking into rejuvenating cellular and molecular structures to keep people young. To restore health and vigor, organizations partnering with the foundation are experimenting with growing organs and cells in labs. That could allow for organs to be custom-made from the recipient's cells. The cells also could be used as neurons for the brain or muscle for the heart. The process might eliminate the need for organ donors or searching for a match. It also would reduce the risk of transplant rejection, and a recipient's organs would be biologically "younger" than those from a donor.
As people get older, they experience a decline in such vital functions as memory, digestion, and blood circulation. Yun is focused on what he calls functional longevity. He is offering a $1 million cash prize to researchers who can "hack the aging code," or find a solution to aging that would prolong lives and maintain quality of life. Yun's approach to prolonging life span is to restore the body's ability to respond to stress, known as homeostatic capacity. As we get older, our capacity declines, causing functions to weaken. Yun is looking for entrepreneurs and engineers who have ideas on how to measure homeostatic capacity. "Rather than thinking about inflammation as a cause of aging, we should think about it as a loss of inflammatory capacity. Instead of thinking that weight gain is just part of aging, think of it as a loss of metabolic capacity."