Science is Working on Therapies For Healthy Longevity
People call it life extension, anti-aging, age-reversal, longevity research, geroscience, rejuvenation biotechnology, and even biomedical gerontology but what exactly is it?
What life extension is
While life extension is technically correct, it is somewhat more nuanced than simply just increasing lifespan. It describes the development of 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 reversing, delaying, or preventing age-related diseases.
- Genomic instability – DNA damage that mutates cells and can potentially cause cancer and other harmful cell behaviours.
- Telomere attrition – The protective caps on our chromosomes erode which leads to loss of tissue regeneration.
- Epigenetic alterations – Changes to gene expression that makes cells old and more dysfunctional.
- Loss of proteostasis – Loss of efficient protein creation and the accumulation of cellular waste.
- Deregulated nutrient sensing – Failure of appropriate response to nutrients, cell growth, loss of energy production, and other cellular functions.
- Mitochondrial dysfunction – Free radicals and oxidative stress damage to the mitochondria leading to mitochondrial mutations and failure of energy production.
- Cellular senescence – Worn out damaged cells accumulates which lead to chronic inflammation and loss of tissue regeneration.
- Stem cell exhaustion – A loss in the ability of our stem cells to regenerate damaged tissues due to running out of healthy replacement cells.
- Altered intercellular communication – Altered cell-to-cell communication leading to chronic inflammation and dysfunctional cell behaviour.
Most products marketed as “anti-aging” or that purport to “rejuvenate” the body do not actually address any of these aging hallmarks. More often than not they are bogus products and services that prey on people who do not understand the difference between real science and marketing spin.
What is the goal of life extension?
Ultimately, the goal is to make chronologically old and chronologically young people, at every physical level, indistinguishable from one another. Healthy longevity would also be a likely pleasant side effect of making an older person biologically younger.
However, no single therapy will completely restore someone to a youthful state. Because the causes of aging are so broad and interlinked, the technology must be as equally broad and comprehensive in order to bring about rejuvenation.
For example, senolytics are rejuvenation because they eliminate harmful senescent cells, which accumulate with age and are one of the proposed hallmarks of aging. However, because types of senescent cells differ from one another, a comprehensive suite of senolytic therapies is required to directly address this particular hallmark through destroying these cells.
Stem cell therapies are rejuvenation because they address stem cell exhaustion, restoring the body’s youthful ability to repair tissues; however, because the body requires many types of stem cells for long-term function, each stem cell niche must be replenished.
What life extension isn’t
While most of us can probably agree that healthy longevity is a good thing, there is a big misunderstanding about what it is.
It is not about curing death, living forever, or immortality. Such things are either a science fiction fantasy, or at best, something so far in the future it is beyond our focus. Even if our field succeeded in bringing the aging processes under medical control, that does not mean death will no longer happen. The grim reaper is not going anywhere anytime soon.
While increased healthy lifespan is the likely result of developing technologies to keep people biologically younger, that is merely a delightful side effect of preventing or reversing age-related disease. More healthy life is surely a great thing, but that is in no way the same as ending death or immortality.
Why even mention all this? The reason is because people frequently mix up the defeat of aging with the defeat of death. This gives entirely the wrong impression about what our field is doing and so it is important to understand the difference between the two. In a nutshell, our field is developing medicine. Sure, highly novel and advanced forms of medicine that address aging, but it is still medicine.
We have created this video that further explores this and some of the other misconceptions about it.
The future of life extension
Of course, creating a world where everyone can enjoy healthy longevity is not going to be without its challenges and from time to time people raise concerns about life extension which we have considered and have responded to some of the more common ones.
Also, because each hallmark requires intensive effort to comprehensively combat, it is clear that building a complete set of rejuvenation biotechnology therapies will require a great deal of research and development. Creating this technology will require help from investors, medical professionals, researchers, policymakers, and members of the public. Poor funding is one of the four bottlenecks of the development of life extension technology.
However, if you are already convinced that healthy longevity and the eradication of age-related diseases is a positive thing and would like to live long enough to benefit from these technologies, you may want check out how to start a personal longevity strategy.