This site examines current research into aging and what can be done in the short to medium term to either slow or reverse its effects. The sole purpose of this site is to explain where we currently stand as far as research is concerned and generate interest in a subject which affects each and every one of us. I am confident that much of what you discover may surprise you.
Aging is something which never really touches us in a positive way, granted we become wiser but the frailty, reduced cognitive function and other negative effects of the aging process are a high price to pay. Currently, we can't escape it and every day we edge closer and closer to the end of the road. There is, however, a great difference between ourselves and the millions who preceded us. In the past any possibility of an effective treatment for aging was not something that could be realistically contemplated by anyone who was in full possession of their senses. In the last 5 years, however, things have started to change very rapidly as you will discover over the coming pages. The reason for the shift is that medicine has become an information technology and, just as with all information technologies, progress is being made at an exponential rate.
Could we develop treatments to slow or reverse aging?
People have always said that aging is one of the only two certainties in life, the other being taxes. Current research indicates they are almost certainly wrong. In recent years, Gerontologists have begun to overturn much of the conventional wisdom about getting old. Aging is not the simple result of the passage of time but the result of accumulated cellular and molecular damage which builds up over time until it starts to cause serious and potentially life threatening health issues.
In my opinion, the turning point regarding the war on aging will be seen by future generations as having taken place on June 25th 2000 at the Marriott Hotel in Manhattan Beach, California. This was the point when Dr Aubrey de Grey realized that curing aging was likely to be extremely difficult but there might be an alternative route that would lead us to significant (dare I say extreme) life extension. This alternative is termed by Dr de Grey and many others as the engineering approach. Myself and many others view this approach as holding the greatest promise for combating aging within the next 20/25 years. I think another turning point might well turn our to be Calico which is an independent R&D biotech company established in 2013 by Google Inc. and Arthur D. Levinson with the goal of combating aging and associated diseases.The name Calico is shorthand for California Life Company Calico's mission is to harness advanced technologies to increase understanding of the biology that controls lifespan. They will use that knowledge to devise interventions that enable people to lead longer and healthier lives. Executing on this mission will require an unprecedented level of interdisciplinary effort and a long-term focus for which fortunately due to the relationship adequate funding is clearly already in place. In my opinion Calico might well prove to be a game changer.
What is the Engineering Approach?
The key to understanding the engineering approach is to keep in mind that we will most likely not find a CURE for aging in the foreseeable future. Whilst it would be ideal we must be realistic and work on the basis that it will not happen. In my opinion, we must work from where our knowledge is at currently. Our strongest area of knowledge lies in that, although we understand the reasons why the body deteriorates with age, we do not have the requisite knowledge to intervene in a way that influences the actual ongoing metabolic processes.
I am often asked "how long before we can cure aging?" To understand let’s keep in mind that we are already adding two months to life expectancy every year (or 5 hours per day) and this has been consistent for the last 30 years or so. If you then consider that many people including myself see a better than 50% chance of controlling aging within 25 years the whole issue starts to become very interesting. As far as the time span for an actual cure, I would hazard a guess that it is at least 100 years away. The alternative approach is to aim at controlling aging and repairing the accumulated damage and this should be our primary goal because we understand how the damage is laid down even though we understand very little about actually slowing aging or influencing metabolism. This is the essence of Aubrey de Grey's theory regarding the engineering approach and it holds the best prospect of success in the first half of this century.
What does the Engineering Approach offer?
I am pretty confident that taking this route potentially means that we do not have to find a cure for aging itself, therefore, we bypass the problems that our lack of knowledge in the area of metabolism and the aging process creates because what Aubrey terms “engineered negligible senescence" can potentially extend life indefinitely while not actually curing the underlying aging process which is allowed to continue.
The key lies in the fact that we have a sufficient understanding of genetic and biochemical processes that lead to metabolic damage that we can already envision what is termed the engineering approach. Aubrey frequently uses the question "how long will a house last?" Of course, the answer is that, if you look after it, it can last forever! The key here is that Aubrey proposes that we find a method to undo the damage that has accumulated over the first 50 or 60 years of a person’s life. Repairing the damage means we do not need to understand all the processes of aging, only that we need to know enough to extend healthy lifespan by let us say 30 years.
So how would it work in practice?
It is actually quite easy to follow and what this means in essence is that, let us say you are 60 years old at the time of the first intervention and that this early and fundamentally imperfect treatment repairs 25 years of accumulated damage. Then 10 years later you would reach the chronological age of 70 but would be biologically only 45 years old. We now come to the vital key to the whole theory which is this, let us say 20 years after the first treatment, when you are chronologically 80 but biologically 55 years old, clearly both your doctor and yourself will realize that the damage that was not repaired in the first treatment combined with further damage accumulated over the 20 years since is again posing a health risk. At this point it is time for another intervention.
It is now that the progress in medicine comes into play because, by the time 20 years has gone by, anti-aging medicine will have moved on significantly and, whilst the first treatment bought you an extra 20 or 30 years by repairing a fair amount of the damage accumulated over 60 years of living, it did not repair it all. 20 years later progress will mean that the latest treatment will not only repair all of the damage corrected by the first intervention but also some of the damage that was not able to be repaired 20 years earlier so in essence you are now 80 and having intervention number 2 which will not only repair all of the damage that was repaired by intervention 1 (along with the 20 years of damage since the first intervention) but also some (but probably still not all) of the damage that could not be repaired by the first treatment.
This means that, whilst you will have aged 20 years, chronologically you will be biologically younger after the second intervention than you were after the first. This is the essence of Aubrey's theory and, essentially, it is a short cut to radical life extension. It is not a cure but it acknowledges that it does not need to be because it simply buys time and leads to a situation where regular interventions at say 15/20 year intervals with increasing effective treatments could extend life virtually indefinitely.
Will it happen?
My opinion is that we are well on the way in a number of areas such as gene therapy, stem cell therapies, tissue engineering and cutting edge cancer treatments which use the patients own immune system to identify and attack the tumours. Progress depends on funding although a number of factors will drive things forward and interest is increasing among both Scientists and the general population. The greatest driving force of all is that the baby boomers are aging and this will place increasing demands on healthcare systems so keeping them going for even another 7 or 8 years in good health will yield massive cost savings. To get this in perspective keep in mind that the average person costs more in medical expenditure in the final year of their life than all the other years put together. Also, the number of workers is declining in most developed countries which means that we need to keep the existing population working and productive for as long as possible.
The above are just two reasons to aggressively pursue regenerative medicine but jointly they pose a serious economic threat to many countries worldwide for the simple reason that when you combine a falling birthrate with large numbers of chronically sick baby boomers it equates to economic disaster. So what time-frame do I put on it? My reply is that I made a projection some time back and, based on current research, I feel we will be pretty much able to treat and manage aging within 20 to 25 years given appropriate research and funding although some area such as cancer, stem cell therapies, immunology and tissue engineering are quite well or very well funded already its the others such as removing intracellular and extracellular garbage, treating protein crosslinks and enabling the body to dispose of senescent cells which are vital in order to achieve comprehensive rejuvenation, Two charitable foundations which are coordinating research and seeking to raise funds appear below and the SENS foundation is making good progress in spite of limited funding.
If you are unsure whether this is a war worth fighting consider this. When the war on aging is won (and it is a case of when not if) 100,000 people per day would be saved! This is because, of the 150,000 people who die each day, two thirds die from aging. This is a staggering figure and what this means is that, of nearly 60 million people who die each year, 40 million die from age related issues. I believe we will achieve significant positive results within the next decade in research on mice and that the knowledge acquired will then be transferred to humans and, hopefully, end the horrific descent into senility and old age of the millions of people who linger in retirement homes and suffer the indignities that come with the passing years.
Conquering aging is pretty much the same as beating any other disease, albeit aging is a complex issue involving many different processes but that does not mean that it is not a realistic goal to render it treatable within 20 to 25 years.
Elsewhere in the site I will outline recent progress in rejuvenative and anti aging therapies based on a timeframe which I outlined in 2008. These developments are all steps along the path to winning the war and I have set out in the timeline the areas where I believe progress will be the most rapid. Of course, only time will tell if I am right but I am quietly confident.
Before I wrap up this page and move onto the various strategies which could conquer aging I would like to quote Dr Aubrey de Grey:
"Conventional medical progress has ensured that a child born today can expect to live 120 to 150 years. I think it's possible for them to live far longer. If we make the right breakthroughs in the next 25 years then there is a 50:50 chance that people alive today could live to be 1,000 years old."
There is, of course, always the chance that none of us alive today will get a ticket for the ride. Our life spans will, on average, probably be greater than those of previous generations even without any dramatic interventions but the ultimate goal of every sensible life extensionist is making it to escape velocity.
The "normal" rate of medical progress ensures that life expectancy increases by about 2 years every decade. This ensures that, for every hour that passes, you have gained 12 minutes of life expectancy. Accelerate the rate of progress and you stand a chance of achieving "take-off" - the point at which life expectancy increases faster than the population ages.