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Rejuvenation Research Is Now a Mainstream Topic – Article by Steve Hill

Rejuvenation Research Is Now a Mainstream Topic – Article by Steve Hill

Steve Hill


Editor’s Note: In this article, originally published on August 26, 2019, by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF), Mr. Steve Hill reviews an MIT Technology Review article authored by David Adam. Mr. Adam gives his view of the research field of aging, and Mr. Hill is impressed by the factualism compared to the MIT Technology Review’s previous articles that covered the topic. Mr. Hill goes on to discuss aging and lifespan in other species and address the question: Is aging a disease, and does it really matter?

~Bobby Ridge, Assistant Editor, September 9, 2019


It is a sure sign that the tide has turned when mainstream news outlets and magazines start publishing positive articles about aging research and the prospects of rejuvenation.

A refreshing change

Today, I want to highlight an article in MIT Technology Review in which the author, David Adam, gives a sensible and measured overview of what is happening in the field and manages to sidestep the usual negativity and misconceptions that often plague popular science pieces.

Since ancient times, aging has been viewed as simply inevitable, unstoppable, nature’s way. “Natural causes” have long been blamed for deaths among the old, even if they died of a recognized pathological condition. The medical writer Galen argued back in the second century AD that aging is a natural process.

His view, the acceptance that one can die simply of old age, has dominated ever since. We think of aging as the accumulation of all the other conditions that get more common as we get older—cancer, dementia, physical frailty. All that tells us, though, is that we’re going to sicken and die; it doesn’t give us a way to change it. We don’t have much more control over our destiny than a Cyclops.

But a growing number of scientists are questioning our basic conception of aging. What if you could challenge your death—or even prevent it altogether? What if the panoply of diseases that strike us in old age are symptoms, not causes? What would change if we classified aging itself as the disease?

The article skips the sensationalism and assumptions that many journalists typically make about aging research; instead, we get a solid piece of factual journalism. This is in stark contrast to the reporting done by this outlet a few years ago, as it had published irrationally skeptical and frequently negative coverage of the field and the science behind it.

This may be partially due to changes to the editorial staff at the magazine, which happened in 2017, but it is also indicative of the wider acceptance of the idea that we may be able to do something about aging. The same magazine has even published a special issue entitled Old Age is Over! – If you want it, which takes a deeper dive into the topic, though this is paid content.

There may be a choice about how we age

For millennia, it has been assumed that aging is a one-way street and that we must simply accept that there is nothing we can do about it, aside from facing age-related ill health with stoicism. However, the situation has somewhat changed. As researchers have discovered more about how aging works, the processes driving it, and the results from model animals, it has become increasingly clear to many people that something might be done about aging in order to delay, prevent, or potentially reverse age-related diseases.

We already know that a number of species do not age; this phenomenon is known as negligible senescence. This simply means that the organism does not show a decline of survival characteristics, such as muscle strength, mobility, and senses. Such species also do not experience an increased mortality rate with advancing age or a loss of reproductive capability with age.

These species tend to have much more efficient repair systems that are capable of offsetting and repairing damage rapidly enough to prevent it from accumulating and snowballing out of control as it does in humans. We are relatively long-lived as a species, but, compared to some longevity champions, such as the bowhead whale at 200 years plus, the Greenland shark at 400 or more years, and the ocean quahog clam, which lives at least 507 years, our lifespan is relatively brief.

So, the race is now on to see if we can develop therapies to repair age-related damage, slow down how fast that damage accrues, and see if we can emulate these kings of longevity. The key take-home message here is that there is no biological reason that humans might not live longer, healthier lives if such therapies are developed.

Exactly how long that might be is a matter of speculation; it could be a few years, a decade or two, or perhaps more. The key point is that the researchers who are developing these therapies are aiming to make those extra years healthy ones, and that is surely something that most people can get behind.

Is aging a disease, and does it really matter?

Some researchers propose that aging is a disease, and while this is a somewhat contentious view, it has some merit and is absolutely worthy of further discussion. We discussed if aging is natural or pathological in a previous article, and while the case can certainly be made that aging is a disease, it may more accurately fit the description of a co-morbid syndrome: a group of symptoms that consistently occur together and a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms.

Whether or not they believe in either the disease hypothesis or maximum life spans, most experts agree that something has to change in the way we deal with aging. “If we don’t do something about the dramatic increase in older people, and find ways to keep them healthy and functional, then we have a major quality-­of-life issue and a major economic issue on our hands.” – Dr. Brian Kennedy

This matter is largely a matter of semantics, and the important thing is that, from a regulatory point of view, including aging as a disease state or syndrome would make it easier to develop therapies that directly target the aging processes themselves. Currently, therapies must focus on single diseases in order to progress through clinical trials, which is not the most optimal approach.

However, it is my personal view that this situation will not change much until the first successful human demonstration of rejuvenation therapy occurs. Until then, researchers will continue to work within the current regulatory system, and while this is, by its nature, slower, it does not prevent progress being made. Fortunately, there are now a lot of companies working in this space, and a number of therapies are quite far along in development.

A therapy that works in humans against one age-related disease by targeting an aging process directly could potentially treat a slew of other related diseases, and so any successful therapy making it through the system would likely rapidly see off-label usage for other, similar conditions.

Conclusion

In closing, it is refreshing to see more balanced and fair reporting on the field and the science of aging rather than the negative and highly biased material that this outlet had published prior to 2017. Reasonable skepticism is perfectly understandable, especially in a field as cutting-edge as rejuvenation biotechnology, which is charting unknown waters and attempting to do what has long been thought impossible.

However, the weight of evidence, the results of a myriad of animal studies demonstrating age reversal, and the rapid increase of scientific understanding should balance that skepticism in anyone interested in science and the actual facts. A magazine devoted to science really should be at the top of its game when reporting the facts, and this and other recent articles on the topic have been much closer to this mark. Oh my, how times have changed.

Steve Hill serves on the LEAF Board of Directors and is the Editor in Chief, coordinating the daily news articles and social media content of the organization. He is an active journalist in the aging research and biotechnology field and has to date written over 500 articles on the topic as well as attending various medical industry conferences. In 2019 he was listed in the top 100 journalists covering biomedicine and longevity research in the industry report – Top-100 Journalists covering advanced biomedicine and longevity, created by the Aging Analytics Agency. His work has been featured in H+ Magazine, Psychology Today, Singularity Weblog, Standpoint Magazine, Keep Me Prime, and New Economy Magazine. Steve has a background in project management and administration which has helped him to build a united team for effective fundraising and content creation, while his additional knowledge of biology and statistical data analysis allows him to carefully assess and coordinate the scientific groups involved in the project. In 2015 he led the Major Mouse Testing Program (MMTP) for the International Longevity Alliance and in 2016 helped the team of the SENS Research Foundation to reach their goal for the OncoSENS campaign for cancer research.

The Good Sides of Aging? – Article by Nicola Bagalà

The Good Sides of Aging? – Article by Nicola Bagalà

Nicola Bagalà


Editor’s Note: Nicola Bagalà in this guest article elaborates upon aging as a topic distinguished in terms of Chronological Aging and Biological Aging. This article was originally published by the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation (LEAF).

~ Kenneth Alum, Director of Publication, U.S. Transhumanist Party, October 17, 2017

Sometimes, and especially in articles aimed at mitigating people’s fear of aging, it is said that aging doesn’t come just with downsides, such as frailty and diseases, but also with upsides — for example, wisdom and a long life experience.

It is often subtly implied that these two very different aspects are two sides of the same coin, that you can’t have one without the other, and perhaps even that the ill health of old age is a fair price to pay for the benefits that also come with it.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Setting the record straight

There are plenty of good reasons to be afraid of aging, because the diseases and disabilities it causes are very real and far from being observed only in exceptional cases. It would be foolish not to fear cancer, for example, because it is an extremely serious and often fatal condition; in the same way, and for the same reasons, it is foolish not to fear aging; perhaps, an even stronger fear is justified, because aging can and does give rise to many diseases, including cancer itself.

There’s nothing wrong with fearing aging, because it may help us steer clear from its inherent dangers, just like the fear of any other harmful thing keeps us away from it. This is true so long as by ‘aging’ we mean biological aging, which is not at all the same as chronological aging. It is very important to draw a line between the two so that we don’t end up accepting the downsides of the former, which are neither necessary nor sufficient to enjoy the benefits of the latter.

What’s the difference?

Chronological aging is a rather fancy term to indicate a very mundane thing, namely the passing of time. For as long as time will keep passing, everything will age chronologically. This is obviously a good thing because if time did not pass, the universe would stand still and nothing at all, including ourselves, would ever happen.

However, it is easy to see how chronological and biological aging are not the same thing by means of a simple observation: Although time runs essentially uniformly everywhere on Earth, different life forms have different health- and lifespans. If time passes at the same rate for me and for a cat, and yet I’m (biologically) old at age 80 while a cat is (biologically) old already at age 15, clearly there must be something else than just the passing of time that accounts for this discrepancy.

This ‘something else’ is metabolism—the intricate set of chemical reactions the bodies of living creatures perform on a daily basis for the very purpose of staying alive. As we have discussed in other articles, what we call biological aging is really just a process of damage accumulation; this damage, which eventually leads to pathologies, is caused by metabolism itself, and therefore a faster metabolism means faster aging. Different species have different metabolic rates; as a rule of thumb, the smaller the species, the faster its metabolism and thus its aging, leading to shorter health- and lifespan. This is, in a nutshell, why a cat ages faster than I do.

As a confirmation of this fact, one may observe that species in a regimen of caloric restriction tend to live longer (sometimes much longer) than their normal lifespan, and the insurgence of age-related diseases is delayed accordingly: A lower caloric intake causes metabolism to slow down; consequently, the aging process follows suit.

Interestingly, some lucky species, the so-called negligibly senescent organisms, don’t show any signs of biological aging at all with the passing of time.

At this point, you don’t have to be clairvoyant to see that biological aging implies chronological aging, but not vice-versa. No chronological aging means no time passing, and no time passing means nothing takes place, metabolism included. However, since different creatures age differently (or not at all) despite time passing at the same rate for all of them, chronological aging doesn’t imply biological aging. Quite simply, they’re not the same thing.

Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s

Having cleared the difference between chronological and biological aging, we must now correctly attribute the aforementioned pros and cons of old age to each of them.

From the very definition of biological aging above, it’s clear that it is the culprit responsible for the cons—the diseases of old age.

Speaking of the pros, all possible benefits of old age—life experience, wisdom, sense of accomplishment—certainly do not come from the damage that metabolism has wrecked throughout your body over the years. Clearly, they depend on the events of your life, and thus they’re not at all granted to happen, no matter how long you live. If you spent your life in isolation doing nothing, avoiding new experiences, and not learning anything new, your wisdom as an eighty-year-old would hardly compare to that of a well-traveled, seasoned scientist or philosopher of the same age, for example. Ultimately, the benefits traditionally attributed to old age obviously depend on the passing of time (i.e., chronological aging), and most of all on the use you made of your time. Just because you’re old, you’re not automatically wise, accomplished, or well-learned.

What’s more, the debilitation that comes with biological aging makes it harder for you to relish and expand the wisdom and experience you’ve accrued over the years. So, not only does biological aging bring no benefits; it is a hindrance as well.

In conclusion, the pros and cons of old age are due to different causes, and, as such, they aren’t interdependent. The diseases of old age are not a currency you can use to buy yourself the wisdom of the aged, and thanks to the emergence of rejuvenation biotechnologies, you might relatively soon be able to enjoy the pros of old age without having to pay any undue and unfair tolls.

 

About Nicola Bagalà

Nicola Bagalà has been an enthusiastic supporter and advocate of rejuvenation science since 2011. Although his preferred approach to treating age-related diseases is Aubrey de Grey’s suggested SENS platform, he is very interested in any other potential approach as well. In 2015, he launched the blog Rejuvenaction to advocate for rejuvenation and to answer common concerns that generally come with the prospect of vastly extended healthy lifespans. Originally a mathematician graduated from Helsinki University, his scientific interests range from cosmology to AI, from drawing and writing to music, and he always complains he doesn’t have enough time to dedicate to all of them—which is one of the reasons he’s into life extension. He’s also a computer programmer and web developer. All the years spent learning about the science of rejuvenation have sparked his interest in biology, in which he’s planning to get a university degree.

About LIFE EXTENSION ADVOCACY FOUNDATION (LEAF)

In 2014, the Life Extension Advocacy Foundation was established as a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting increased healthy human lifespan through fiscally sponsoring longevity research projects and raising awareness regarding the societal benefits of life extension. In 2015 they launched Lifespan.io, the first nonprofit crowdfunding platform focused on the biomedical research of aging.

They believe that this will enable the general public to influence the pace of research directly. To date they have successfully supported four research projects aimed at investigating different processes of aging and developing therapies to treat age-related diseases.

The LEAF team organizes educational events, takes part in different public and scientific conferences, and actively engages with the public on social media in order to help disseminate this crucial information. They initiate public dialogue aimed at regulatory improvement in the fields related to rejuvenation biotechnology.