Friday, August 6, 2010

The Future of Health Care - The End of Aging

What disease kills 100,000 people every day (usually after a prolonged period of pain and illness), affects nearly everyone, and kills about 90% of people in the industrialized world?

Aubrey de Grey, a renowned gerontologist, is on a quest to eliminate aging. The search for the fountain of youth has confounded humanity for millennia, but de Grey is on more solid scientific ground than most of his predecessors in this field. He has identified what he believes are the seven causes of biological aging – a list whi
ch has remained unchanged for the past 30 years – as well as the solutions for dealing with each cause. These solutions are not merely theoretical; they have all been demonstrated in labs, although most of them are many years away from being generally available.

Some casual observers may conclude that it is physically impossible to prevent aging since people have been trying and failing to do so for millennia. But the fact is that there are naturally-occurring examples of cells that do not age. Unfortunately, they’re called cancer cells, and tend to have the nasty side effect of killing people. Nevertheless, they do demonstrate the reality of cells that do not age.

Each cell in our body normally has an hourglass in it; the cell replicates as many times as it can, then commits suicide when the hourglass runs out of sand. But scientists have discovered how to add more sand to the hourglass. It’s an enzyme called telomerase that occurs at the end of DNA strands. E
ach time our cells divide, the DNA strands become frayed at the end, until eventually they are too unstable and self-destruct. For the discovery of telomerase in 1984 and subsequent analysis of how it relates to aging, three scientists were awarded the 2009 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

There is still a lot of research that needs to be done before it is possible to halt or reverse the aging process in humans. De Grey’s organizations, the SENS Foundation and the Methuselah Foundation, are currently testing life-extension therapies on mice. The Methuselah Foundation offers the MPrize: a reward of up to $4 million to anyone who can extend the lifespan of mice to record-breaking lengths. The goal is to eventually apply this knowledge to increase the human lifespan.

De Grey is not interested in extending the portion of life in which people are old, frail, and sick. His goal is to extend the healthy portion of life, and ultimately to prevent people from ever growing old at all…and reversing the aging process for those who are already elderly. This is not pie-in-the-sky immortality, as it won’t eliminate all causes of death. It would, however, offer the possibility of lifespans of indefinite length. De Grey has explained the concept as the “Longevity Escape Velocity.Over the past century, medicine has done an excellent job preventing people from dying at young ages, but very little to prevent aging or increase the maximum human lifespan. At the present, medicine is progressing relatively slowly, adding a few weeks to our lifespan every year. When the Genomic Revolution picks up pace within the next few years, it is likely that this will be increased to a few months every year. De Grey hopes that eventually we can attack the root causes of aging itself to add more than one year to the human lifespan every year. He believes that the first person to reach age 1,000 is alive today…and is probably only about ten years younger than the first person to live to age 150.

The concepts of aging and old age are so ingrained in our mindset that we tend to not even think about them. Like anything that is both horrifying and seemingly inevitable, we have a remarkable ability to push aging out of our minds, or even to go through mental contortions to rationalize it as a good thing. Virtually all major life decisions we make – what career to pursue, how much of our money to save, how much risk to take, who to marry, how many children to have, when to retire, what our religious beliefs are, if or when we should go to college – are ultimately premised on the assumption that we will grow old and die, probably between ages 70 and 100. But what if this ceases to be the case? There is almost nothing that would alter our lifestyles, worldviews, beliefs, and culture as profoundly as the end of aging and the mindset that accompanies it.

Modern biology has already discovered theoretical solutions to all of the causes of aging; it is now a matter of applying them and developing solutions that work for human beings.

(The SENS Foundation and the Methuselah Foundation are non-profit organizations under US law. All donations are tax-deductible. If you have some money to donate, these organizations are helping to solve the single worst disease threatening humanity.)

By 2045 – The aging process has been halted, for all intents and purposes. People no longer grow old beyond their peak healthy age, between 18 and 25.
By 2060 – It is possible to reverse existing damage from the aging process. It is no longer possible to estimate an adult’s chronological age merely by looking at them. Diseases of old age have, for the most part, ceased to be a problem.

1 comment:

  1. I have the utmost confidence in the work of Dr Aubrey de Grey and his theories of why we age. In my opinion these theories will almost certainly be seen by future generations as the turning point in the war on aging. The reason for this is rather similar to the breakthrough when we realised a flying machines wings did not need to flap like a bird it was Aubrey's realisation that curing aging will be very difficult (I personally think it is 100+ years away) but that treating it with regular interventions to mitigate its effects might offer us a shortcut to extreme life extension. The evidence that he is correct is significant but I feel the single most compelling piece of proof to support Aubrey’s theory is that our risk of dying doubles every 7 years, for example your risk of death from disease at 21 is double what it was at 14 and at 28 double what it was at 21. Although this doubling every seven years does not become a major problem until you reach say 40 because it starts off at such a low level the growth is exponential meaning it accelerates rapidly with age. What is abundantly clear is that the only likely cause for this increasing risk of mortality is the accumulation of junk in the body and the genetic damage to our DNA which builds up over time. Aubrey's theory is that if we intervened and removed some of the damage we would make a person biologically younger and this certainly makes sense. As far as progress we are progressing quite well in some areas and where Aubrey scores highly is that he has brought together large numbers of experts from a variety of fields who normally wouldn't come across each other and share ideas. It is this factor which is driving things forward with great momentum through combining knowledge and research from a wide range of unrelated though complimentary fields of research.

    I am pretty much cetain there is nothing to indicate that the theory regarding the 7 fundamental causes of aging which Aubrey has put forward is not plausible. People often ask me in conversation "how do you know Aubrey is right and there are only 7 main types of damage and accumulated problems that arise through aging?" the answer to this lies in the fact that these seven were all discovered over a roughly 20 year period between the 1950s and 1970s, this means that in the last 30 plus years in spite of the human genome project and vastly increased scientific knowledge we have not found any further factors and this supports Aubrey's view (and mine) that these 7 are probably all there are. To understand the theory I recommend checking out this clip

    I view the conquering of aging in much the same way as beating any other disease albeit aging is a complex issue involving many different processes many of which we have only begun to understand. sometimes Aubrey is accused of making it sound simpler than it actually is by breaking the causes down to seven factors as set out below but Aubrey is certainly not deluded and is well aware that we are fighting a war and that victory will be far from easy but that does not mean that it is not a realistic proposition to render aging a treatable although chronic condition within 25 to 30 years! The key is funding and I support the two organisations Jon Thompson refers to above namely or