Research suggests the possibility of creating anti-aging treatments
As postulated in a TED talk in Munich last year1, British biologist and SENS Research Foundation (SRF) co-founder Dr. Aubrey de Grey believes in a future world in which no one ages. As Chief Science Officer at SRF, he believes the first person who will live to be 1,000 has already been born, and that the "aging problem" will be solved within 20 years. De Grey looks at aging as merely another disease – and one that is curable.
Healthy Longevity & Living Forever
Aging has led to the inevitable decline of all biological organisms since life first began on planet Earth; mortality is a reality. How well one ages can be somewhat influenced, healthy longevity may be attained, but to date, aging cannot be prevented. De Grey truly believes that science can prevent aging and reiterated this stance at a recent Virtual Futures event in London2, where he predicted that researchers will perfect effective anti-aging treatments within the next 20 years.
De Grey is passionate about the fact that aging is one of humanity’s biggest challenges, noting that it kills 110,000 people worldwide every day. “It unequivocally causes far more suffering than anything else that we have to experience and, contrary to the impression that most of humanity has forced itself into, it’s indeed a problem which is amenable through technological intervention,” says de Grey.
If the world does agree to reject aging (and mind you – it is a controversial issue with many sociological, ethical and political arguments against such intervention), de Grey foresees the development of what might be referred to as rejuvenation clinics. These clinical centers will address seven issues related to aging: tissue atrophy, cancerous cells, mitochondrial mutations, death-resistant cells, extracellular matrix stiffening, extracellular aggregates, and intracellular aggregates.
Not surprisingly, such clinics and their treatments are expected to be expensive at first, before potentially becoming more publicly accessible and affordable. So in reality, anti-aging treatments will initially be available only to a certain socio-economic sector, just as medical care is not universally the same or available to all. Not everyone could afford a knee or hip replacement decades ago, they were rare, costly and the technique was not perfected, and now they are commonplace, far more affordable and the surgical techniques and bionic parts are far more advanced. Who would have thought a half century ago that hearts and livers could be transplanted to prolong life?
De Grey hopes that ultimately, anti-aging treatments will be as simple to get as scheduling a doctor or dentist appointment, but it’s hard to speculate on what these treatments will be or how involved they will be. And who qualifies? Only healthier, older candidates? Will such treatments be covered by insurance plans or Medicare? And what about overpopulation and the impacts and costs it has already incurred on society? Will anti-aging treatment and care become a political campaign issue? The debate promises to be very geo-political, as well as sociological, ethical, and certainly very futuristic.
Furthermore, at what point does an individual not want to continue living if they are losing control of their body which can be frustrating, painful, and debilitating? Or will there really be an opportunity to remain eternally young with totally regenerative body parts, tissues and organs?
Research on Aging
While the SENS Research Foundation is committed to finding solutions to “end biological aging” by funding work at universities across the world and at its research center in Mountain View, CA, other organizations are in hot pursuit of a “cure” for aging and in finding ways to live longer.
Last year, there were significant breakthroughs in the realm of anti-aging research. In August 2017, researchers discovered a molecule capable of combating the effects of aging3 and, a few months later, two teams of researchers published the results of their clinical trials involving a stem cell transplant that could diminish the conditions of age-related frailty4. These trials pave the way for larger tests and, hopefully, FDA approval. Researchers at the University of Exeter have also recently developed a way to reverse aging in cells, as well as discovering an anti-aging genetic mutation5.
Not only do therapies need to be in place to support anti-aging cures, but also the infrastructure. Healthcare in general – at least in the United States – is a hugely controversial issue and this will add another layer. That being said, even without a cure for aging, according to United Nations statistics, the population of those aged 60 and older is expected to more than double by 2050, increasing from 962 million globally in 2017 to 2.1 billion in 2050.6
Aging – and over population – are arguably two of the most significant social transformations and impacts of the twenty-first century. Both have implications for nearly all sectors of society, including labor and financial markets, the demand for goods and services (such as housing, transportation and social protection) as well as family structures and intergenerational ties. Keeping people alive longer is a complex, but exciting issue and certainly one that isn’t going to go away. To be part of the debate and to track research developments, stay tuned!