Here are my running notes of the Lift conference in Geneva. This is Prospects for defeating aging altogether (Aubrey de Grey), part of the Generations and Technologies session. May contain errors, omissions, things that aren’t quite right, etc. I do my best but I’m just a human live-blogging machine.
Found other good posts about this session? Link to them in the comments.
SENS.org. Doesn’t work on longevity. Works on ageing. *steph-note: did I get that right? this makes me think of the RadioLab show on mortality, and the story of the worms a scientist manages to make live longer.*
Regenerative medicine. Many people don’t like his work, which is why he specifies that he doesn’t work on longevity. People think of the impact of longevity. But actually, it’s about the impact on health. Keeping people healthy. When we’re really good at keeping people healthy, they’ll live longer, but that’s a side-effect.
About 90% of the USA population dies of “ageing”. We’re talking of combating aging, which is all the causes that mainly kill older people. Nobody wants to get Alzheimer’s. And even if it’s not about getting rid of diseases, life is more fun when you’re healthy, and it costs less. $200 billion/year to provide medical care to aging people.
People don’t like thinking of ageing, because it’s a terrible thing, and it hasn’t happened to most of us (here) yet, but it’s going to happen. We keep ghastly ideas like ageing and death out of our minds most of the time. A big part of the problem is this rational denial.
Aging: accumulation of damage. Metabolism ongoingly causes “damage”. Eventually that damage causes pathology.
Two approaches to aging:
- geriatric approach (do something about the consequences of damage of old age — losing battle)
- gerontologic: prevention is better than cure (try to figure out how to have less damage or clean it up)
But metabolism is really complicated. We can’t really succeed in making it create less damage. There might also be side-effects if we fix something somewhere. System is too complex.
So, rather than that, maintenance. We don’t try to slow down the creation of damage or the consequences, but we try to repair the damage, so it doesn’t get to a pathologic level. A third, more promising approach.
Only 7 types of deadly damage:
- junk in cells
- junk outside cells
- too few cells
- too many cells
- mutations (chromosomes)
- mutations (mitochondria)
- protein crosslinks
We’re pretty confident about this list (been the same since 1982).
How do we fix these things?
All these therapies will be applied to people who are already in middle-age. Question: at what rate do we need to apply these therapies in order to stay a step ahead of the problem.
Audrey wrote a book about this: Ending Aging. Scientifically thorough but written for the non-specialist.
Audrey is confident that we will succeed in this at some point. Optimal age is not that important, because as with all repairs (think “car”) you can actually, by repairing well enough, “age” backwards. Any potential problems we might create by making people live longer and healthier (and we don’t know what it will be like!) must be weighed against the current problems we have supporting aging in our society.