The Science of Antiaging Chat With Aubrey de Grey and S. Jay Olshansky

Science recently hosted a live chat event with researchers Aubrey de Grey and S. Jay Olshansky.

Jay Olshansky, a professor at the University of Illinois, Chicago, and Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist based in Cambridge, U.K., and chief science officer of SENS Foundation, a California-based charity that is trying to combat the aging process.

Aubrey: We are NOT working to extend life for the sake of extending life. We are working to postpone the ill-health of old age, which will probably have the side-effect of extending life, but it’s no more than that, a side-effect. I personally have no idea how long I want to live, and more than I have an opinion on what time I want to go to the toilet next Sunday. In both cases I know I’m going to have better information nearer the time, so it’s idiotic to even think about it. However, I can tell you that I have at least 1000 years of backlog already (books to read, films to se…) – don’t you? If not, why not?

S. Jay Olshansky: Based on technology that exists today, I think humans on average are capable of living about 85-90 years — no matter how much we modify risk factors and improve lifestyles. It is certainly possible for this number to rise further with advances in technology that slow aging, but those don’t exist yet. I don’t see 500 year lifespans occurring any time soon.

S. Jay Olshansky: There have been some reductions in death rates at older ages as you know, but these are for more difficult to achieve than reductions in death rates at younger ages that occurred in the past. I see no reason why life expectancy at age 85 cannot increase — it’s just that the gains in life expectancy must be small because the overall risk of death that these later ages is extremely high. The longer we live, the harder it is to generate increases in life expectancy — especially at older ages.

S. Jay Olshansky: In 1900 life expectancy at birth was about 45. Now it’s about 80 for women and 76 for men. We gained 30 years of life — most healthy. Wasn’t that worth it? It’s hard to imagine the goal of extending healthy life as being harmful in any way — it would enable people to remain working longer if they want, or retire healthier for a longer time period. Health also begets wealth for individuals and populations. Goodness — why are we working so hard to combat heart disease and cancer then?

[Comment From Aaron:]
What are the biggest stumbling block human anti aging science faces, and what actual progress, if any, is being made to over come them?

Aubrey: Aaron: without doubt the biggest stumbling-block is the “pro-aging trance” – society’s determination not to think objectively about aging as a plausible and legitimate target of medicine, and as the precursor of the many and varied diseases of old age. If society were illing to appreciate that medical intervention against aging is no more nor less than preventative geriatrics, there would be vastly more funding for such research, and I estimate that progress would be at least three times faster. The scientific plan exists to defeat aging, and there is no shortage of world-leading scientists eager to do the work, so all that is needed is the resources to let them get on with it. What progress is being made? – well, a big thin is that people like me and Jay are being invited to do events like this. I’m serious – ultimately it’s all about gerontologists getting out there and educating the public, and not being scared to put their heads above the parapet.

S. Jay Olshansky: Aaron: The biggest problem in my view is funding. As my colleagues and I indicated in our article on The Longevity Dividend, we think the time has arrived to take a much more aggressive approach to slow aging as perhaps the best way to improve health and quality of life among existing and future cohorts of older people. Traditional funding routes will not work — too little money, and too slow.

The other obstacle is a general mis-understanding of what we are talking about. My friend Aubrey contributes to this somewhat by talking about radical life extension, which I think can be harmful to the discussion. I’ll talk to him about this again.

Comment From Roy Roy : ]
Would either of you ask the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or European Medicine Agency (EMA) to classify ageing as a disease? If one were to do so, do you think it will accelerate small molecules that target systemic ageing (ex: rapamycin, SRT1720, etc)?

Aubrey: Roy: from a political point of view (funding for research) the mantra that “aging is not a disease” is definitely damaging, but from an FDA point of view not very, because all true anti-aging medicines will also be effective against specific diseases.

S. Jay Olshansky: I’d like to make a general comment, and certainly thank everyone for joining in on this conversation. Although my friend Aubrey and I disagree on many things, most of what we disagree on is entirely irrelevant. It’s what we agree on that is far more important, and that is, the time has arrived to take an entirely new look at aging. We now spend an enormous sum of money attacking the diseases that arise at later ages, but comparatively little on the underlying risk factor for most of what goes wrong with us as we grow older — aging. I hope this conversation helps us all move in this direction, but you can certainly expect much more for my colleagues and I in the near term on an extension of The Longevity Dividend.

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