Anti-aging research breakthroughs may add up to 25 years to life14 years, 4 months ago
Posted on Mar 07, 2006, 5 a.m.
By Bill Freeman
Imagine living to age 50 sans wrinkles, without relinquishing any youthful gaiety, to maybe even see your great-granddaughter's high school education. Sounds implausible, but science is working on it. Recent research is beginning to reveal anti-aging technologies which could prolong life-spans a full 25 years.
Imagine living to age 50 sans wrinkles, without relinquishing any youthful gaiety, to maybe even see your great-granddaughter's high school education. Sounds implausible, but science is working on it.
Recent research is beginning to reveal anti-aging technologies which could prolong life-spans a full 25 years.
Aubrey de Grey of Cambridge University, UK, has presented a cure for aging - Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence. The plan's focus is not to interfere with a person's metabolism, but to repair damage to the body over time, at the cellular level, rather than dealing with the aging process in its later stages.
"My point here is just that this is goal-directed rather than curiosity-driven," de Grey said. "I view medicine as a branch of engineering."
Approaching aging via engineering, SENS is designed to deal periodically with routine damage done to human cells, keeping it at a level low enough to prevent pathology. Pathology is the study of diseases' nature, particularly focusing on changes in cellular structure and function caused as a result. In this case, the disease is aging.
The War On Aging
De Grey calls the time during which the technologies will experience the most development the War On Aging.
"I use the phrase to describe the period starting when we get results in the laboratory with mice that are impressive enough to make people realize that life extension is possible, and ending when the first effective therapies for humans are developed," de Grey said. "I estimate that the War On Aging will start 10 years from now, subject to funding of research, and will last for 15 years, but this latter estimate is extremely speculative."
Natalia Gavrilova of the University of Chicago's Center on Aging said that while contemporary medicine cannot replenish human cells, preventing damage to the human body is the next best thing.
"Small, tiny women can lose their muscle cells during their life spans," she said. "They age and stop moving because they lose their muscle cells. If we could postpone this loss of cells or replenish them, I believe there could be progress for rejuvenation."
Human cells cannot repair themselves as a person ages, Gavrilova said, so the loss of cells is a slower process compared to the loss of muscular cells.
With regard to cell preservation, Gavrilova agrees with de Grey's research.
"Preventing the damage of organs and of cells would postpone the adverse effects of aging," she said.
Associate Biology Professor David P. Lotshaw said better health care and eating habits contribute largely to increased life expectancy.
"I don't know if it's so much medical advances, but awareness and better diets that have improved life spans," Lotshaw said. "Life span has certainly been lengthened by improvements in nutrition. You don't have to work yourself to death anymore."
Criticism of SENS
A criticism of de Grey's research is the end result of overpopulation. Already, the world's birth rate exceeds the world's death rate. With the technology de Grey is presenting, the Earth's population will grow rapidly immediately following availability of the treatments.
De Grey is optimistic the world will find room for longer-living people in exchange for the opportunity to elongate lifetimes.
"World peace will require a resolution of this," de Grey said. "I expect that birth rates will fall much faster in the developing world at this point than they have in the developed world in the past, but actually it only matters that they fall in China and India, which is already beginning to happen. I expect that this will actually not be as serious a problem as it currently seems."
On his Web site, sens.org, de Grey offered city living as a solution to growing population density. However, despite the appeal of living in urban areas, this would only be temporarily effective.
"It will postpone the problem but not indefinitely," de Grey said. "In the end we will have to choose between a high death rate, resulting from just not using these therapies, for example, or a low birth rate, and I mean really low. That'll be a hard choice, but it is a choice that humanity of the future is entitled to make for itself, not to have made in advance by us today."
Due to its fantastical nature, the problem of universal availability remains. There's no word on price, but it seems likely to be expensive, which could launch society into its next great social debate.
De Grey said politicians who stood on platforms advocating availability to everyone could help lower prices through government aid. However, de Grey is merely speculating.
"As on all the other social matters, I do not in any way claim expertise: I am merely doing what a scientist has a duty to do, namely providing the information about what scenarios are possible technologically and initiating a debate about the social implications, a debate that can then be taken forward by those who do social science professionally."Read Full Story