Monday, January 30, 2012

The science of antiaging

Science reporter Jennifer Couzin-Frankel hosted an open public Science Live chat with antiaging experts Jay Olshansky, a professor at the University of Illinois, and Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist based in Cambridge, U.K. and chief science officer of SENS Foundation.

The objective: take an entirely new look at aging. Some interesting excerpts:

Jay Olshansky

The goal of research in this area in my view is not to extend life. The goal is to extend healthy life. If we live longer, I consider that a bonus. However, I would encourage you to be asking the same question of those now working to combat heart disease, cancer, and stroke, and those who experience these conditions. Why we we all want to live longer? I believe what we are talking about here are interventions that enable us to live our lives healthy for as long as possible.

There have been some reductions in death rates at older ages as you know, but these are for more difficult to achieve than reductions in death rates at younger ages that occurred in the past. I see no reason why life expectancy at age 85 cannot increase — it’s just that the gains in life expectancy must be small because the overall risk of death that these later ages is extremely high. The longer we live, the harder it is to generate increases in life expectancy — especially at older ages.

Aubrey de Grey

We age simply because the human body is a machine, and it accumulates damage as a normal side-effect of its operation, just as simple man-made machines do. We live longer than most mammals because we have more comprehensive in-built repair and maintenance machinery than they do.

So in a sense, yes, there is a proven way to delay aging: we know that we will do that if we develop medicine that sufficiently comprehensively repairs the damage of aging, just as we can keep cars or houses in good condition well beyond their “warranty period” by that same method. What we don’t yet have, of course, is actual implementation of that repair medicine — but we’re getting there.

Aubrey de Grey: None of my colleagues ever provides actual scientific reasons for disputing my claim that regenerative medicine is likely, even while still quite imperfect; to deliver “longevity escape velocity” leading to indefinite longevity; they just don’t like to admit it. Well, I prefer to tell the truth, even if it may be politically uncomfortable; I’m sure that in the long run it will hasten these therapies’ development.

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