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Saturday, August 05, 2006


A rather interesting article here on research into aging & how to stop/reverse it.
A growing number of maverick scientists, doctors, researchers, biogeneticists and nano-technologists, many with impeccable academic credentials, insist that the war against ageing can be won. All believe significantly longer lifespans and, perhaps eventually, true biological immortality, are not only possible but also scientifically achievable. What's more, it could happen in time to aid those now living.

The first person to live to be 1,000 years old is certainly alive today; indeed, he or she may be about to turn 60, says Aubrey de Grey, the Cambridge University geneticist who has become the de facto spokesman of the anti-ageing crusade. "Whether they realise it or not, barring accidents and suicide, most people now 40 years or younger can expect to live for centuries". Nutty? Some scientists do dismiss de Grey as a wildly optimistic crank. But plenty of others, though not necessarily accepting all his predictions, have joined in the search for a real fountain of youth. "I am working on immortality", so says Michael Rose, a professor of evolutionary biology at the University of California, Irvine, who has already achieved breakthrough results extending the lives of fruit flies. "Twenty years ago the idea of postponing aging, let alone reversing it, was weird and off-the-wall. Today there are good reasons for thinking it is fundamentally possible".

.........Federal funding for research into the biology of ageing, excluding work on ageing-specific diseases like heart failure and cancer, has been running at about $2.4bn (£1.3bn, E1.9bn) a year, according to the National Institute of Ageing, part of the National Institutes of Health. Though enthusiasts of long living say much more spending is needed, the tally now is not far from the $3bn the government doles out for research in all behavioural sciences, or the $3.5bn for research on women's health beyond breast cancer.

.........Molecular geneticists at the University of Southern California, meanwhile, stunned colleagues when they reported finding that deleting a gene known to prolong ageing somehow ended up greatly extending lifespan. And at the University of Washington, researchers have successfully lengthened the lives of laboratory mice by 20% by boosting natural antioxidants. The hope is that these findings and others could point the way to entirely new classes of drugs to lengthen lives or treat specific, age-related ailments like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

As a believer in the ability of human beings, using the scientific method, to achieve almost anything I have no doubt whatsoever that we can end aging. If progress can be made with mice it can be made with men. A man is a more impressive creature than a mouse but biologicly they are equally complex. The problem then becomes a social one. The population would increase theoreticly to an unlimited extent. The entire concept of pensions, either private or public becomes redundant. Perhaps most dangerously any treatment is likely, intially, to be expensive. In the longer term it is likely to become much cheaper both because of economic growth & because of economies of scale. This is what happened with the motor car & even moreso with the computer. However, while it is expensive it may produce social tensions between the rich & poor which will make the era of Marx look gentle.

On the other hand improved health care means we already have an appreciable lengthening, approxiamately 1 year for every 4 that passes for the last century & nobody would wish to reverse this. I therefore disagree with the opponents at the end of the article.
American Enterprise Institute fellow Leon Kass, the former head of Bush's Council on Bioethics, insists that "the finitude of human life is a blessing for every human individual". Bioethicist Daniel Callahan of the Garrison, New York-based Hastings Centre, agrees: "There is no known social good coming from the conquest of death."

Arguments like that could hurt the efforts of anti-ageing enthusiasts to win more federal funding. They'd like to see more funds not just for stem-cell research but for the full range of anti-ageing studies. Despite the efforts by the National Institute of Ageing, federal support for the field still lags well behind that for specific diseases. Research into brain disorders, for instance, gets $4.7bn a year, nearly double the sum for anti-ageing. "If the same amount of money was spent on this as is now being spent on AIDS, breast cancer or even diabetes, we would see breakthroughs come much faster," argues noted futurist Ray Kurzweil, author of the book Fantastic Voyage: Live Long Enough to Live Forever.

Unnecessary death annoys me. If the survival of the individual is not a "social good" then be damned to whoever holds that notion of society. I think we should start thinking about what to do to ameliorate the inevitable problems but that we should SPEND THAT MONEY.

Addendum by Aubrey de Grey has been brought to my attention. I reccomend it for further reading.

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
This is such an important issue that gets virtually no attention at the moment, but has the potential to change our entire society. While I would like nothing more than to live for a few millenia with the fit body and mind of a 25 year old, it worries me how we would adapt to this on a wide scale.

For a start, how cheap would it be? You could end up with an immortal aristocracy that can afford to stay young forever, while the poor grow old and die. If that's not a recipy for revolution and discord I don't know what is. Perhaps even worse would be people's natural desire to have children. In a world of eternal youth this could no longer be unrestricted, but would have to be rationed to ensure that no more were born than died through disease, accident or suicide. The instinct of a billion years of evolution are not so easily overcome.

Don't get me wrong, I still hope it comes to pass. Just be careful what you wish for.
Most of your questions, concerns and objections are answered by Dr Aubrey de
Grey himself here:

SENS: Why Curing Aging is Good
and Important

I am not at all sure he is right (and I don't agree with everything he says)
but he has clearly thought long and hard on the subject and he presents his
arguments very well. I am deeply skeptical about this sort of thing but he
challenged my preconceptions and made me think again. I must admit his
earnest sobriety surprised and impressed me; I was expecting to write him
off as Just Another Internet Nut.
Thank you for your interesting post!
I thought perhaps you may also find this related story interesting to you:
Longevity Science: SENS
Thank you for your interesting post!
I thought perhaps you may also find this related story interesting to you:
Longevity Science: SENS
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