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[Research] How Close Are We To Abolishing Aging?

Well-Aging designs the process of aging while preserving one’s well-being. The challenge behind Well-Aging resides in the fact that we do not only wish for the individuals of our species to live longer, but mainly to live longer in improved health conditions and in a satisfactory social-emotional environment. It relies on the belief that the older age doesn’t need to be a declining one, defined by default compared to the other ages. It can be a phase of our life defined by positive associations.

We live at a turning point, as many technologies not only contribute to fixing or suppressing symptoms related to aging, but actually aim to improve and enhance the living of the elderly.

We have designed on online class on the Future of Well-Aging, in which we focus on the so-called “silver technologies” designed to improve our end of life, spanning from Biotechnologies preventing senescence, to Information and Communication technologies empowering the elderly, to Citizen technologies and the future of the “senior smart city”. Here is an overview of the first module of the class.

From conventional medicine to “geroscience”

In Jonathan Swift’s 1726 satirical novel Gulliver’s Travels, the name struldbrugg is given to those humans in the nation of Luggnagg who are born seemingly normal, but are in fact immortal. Although struldbruggs do not die, they do continue aging. Swift’s work depicts the evil of immortality without eternal youth.

A dark vision of life-extension is that even if humans achieve to live much longer, their end-of-life condition won’t be a harmonious one, but a declining one. Even if we fight diseases one by one, some believe that we are unable to suppress the effects of the aging process.

For centuries of conventional medicine, Aging has remained relatively unstudied while the focus has been on studying and curing individual diseases. But there is now a whole new field of study around the biology of aging itself and “how aging is making diseases more likely”, called Geroscience.

Two models of aging

Slowly we’ve been moving from a model of independence among diseases (each of them being treated separately and aging being left aside as incurable) to a more recent model based on causation with aging at the center.

Two models of aging

In the independence model, each chronic disease — from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s to Diabetes to Cancer to Arthritis, Heart Disease, and Stroke — has its own trajectory and needs its own investigation and its own treatment. In this model, Aging has been left aside as too hard to address.

Alternatively, the causation model relies on the hypothesis that if we delay aging (the root cause of chronic diseases), we will also suppress the symptoms and manifestations of aging, namely the single chronic diseases.

Gompertz Law of Mortality

Linked to that is the Gompertz-Makeham Law which states that the human death rate is the sum of an age-dependent component (the Gompertz function) which increases exponentially with age, and an age-independent component linked to external causes of death (the Makeham term, often negligible in a protected environment). According to the Gompertz Law of Mortality, after the age of 35, the human mortality rate doubles every 8 years.

Gompertz Law of Mortality (US, 2003)

However, Gompertz Law is not a fixed law of biology. If we succeed in suppressing the roots of aging, we will flatten the curve and consequently decrease the probability and impact of chronic diseases. Some researchers even look to reverse the trend and to completely abolish aging.

The 9 Hallmarks of Aging

Aging is not a single process, but a series of intertwined processes that include direct damage, accumulation of cellular waste, errors, and imperfect repairs, as well as the responses to them. These processes result in the familiar signs of aging and ultimately to the development of age-related diseases that eventually kill us.

One of the most popular and well supported theory is synthesized in The Hallmarks of Aging, a 2013 paper that defined aging as nine distinct categories (called “hallmarks”).

The Hallmarks of Aging, 2013

The paper also explained how these hallmarks are intertwined and interact with each other to drive the development of age-related diseases. These hallmarks include cellular senescence, telomere attrition, genomic instability, stem cell exhaustion, or epigenetic alterations to name a few.

Rejuvenation and the promise of the eternal youth

The ultimate goal of rejuvenation biotechnology is to make chronologically old and chronologically young people, at every physical level, indistinguishable from one another. It covers advanced medical technology that directly addresses any of the various aging processes in order to restore tissue and organ function to a more youthful state, thereby ameliorating, delaying, or preventing age-related diseases.

Aubrey de Grey created the SENS Research Foundation which is an active player in Research Strategy for Aging and rejuvenation biotechnology. Rejuvenation biotechnology is one of the life extension strategies. It consists in reversing the aging processes and thereby restoring youth and health by acting on the hallmarks of aging, for example through stem cell therapy or senolytic agents. But how close are they to completely exterminating aging?

The roadmap to abolishing aging by 2040

Researchers in aging have designed a roadmap to abolishing aging. A few factors are currently in favor of abolishing aging by 2040, such as economic incentive to longevity, as healthy people are net positive contributors to society.

Also, investing in rejuvenation biotechnology will avoid spiraling costs of chronic diseases and end-of-life care. The biggest, most powerful companies in the world are putting more and more effort behind healthy life extension. Crowdfunding has become an alternative way of funding, to support the effort as well.

In addition, transformational technologies of the fourth industrial revolution (nanotech, biotech, ITC, cognitive science) are becoming sufficiently mature to sustain the effort. We can also add that one million rejuveneers (engineers in rejuvenation biotechnology) are willing to collaborate.

And finally, human beings are eager of equal rights and they demand positive action to counteract aging, as our civilization deeply value human life.

The roadblocks to abolishing aging

However, Abolishing Aging advocates still need to remove roadblocks. Among these roadblocks, we are living in a particularly unstable environment characterized by environmental disaster, sanitary crises, economic collapse, political chaos, corruption, and social breakdown.

In addition, we might meet Research insufficiency, with technical difficulties, lack of funding, or diversion of research effort even bigger since medical research budgets have been reallocated to COVID research. We might also lack positive collaboration with infighting and missed alliances.

And most of all, there might be rejection by the public, with many people preferring aging acceptance. They want to minimize risks of social inequity, and the specter of an uncanny valley.

If you want to know more on this topic, I am giving a class on the Future of Aging. Contact me via LinkedIn to know more about the class and our actions at Silicon Humanism.

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Sylvia Gallusser

Sylvia Gallusser

Global Futurist - Strategic Foresight, Futures Thinking, Future Fiction, Sensemaking. Founder @Silicon Humanism. Board Member @Grey Swan Guild.

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