TCS Daily

Is Aging Getting Old?

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - March 1, 2006 12:00 AM

I've written here before (on more than one occasion), about the improving prospects for research into slowing or reversing the aging process. (I've also got a chapter on the subject in my book, An Army of Davids, which comes out next week). The treatment of aging has tended to get bad press: It has generally been seen as a kind of wish-fulfillment pipedream of the older set, kind of like cures for baldness and impotence. Except that, now that cures for baldness and impotence are readily available, that doesn't sound so very bad.

In fact, more and more scientists are getting interested. Last week saw the publication of the Scientists' Open Letter on Aging Research, signed by 54 rather eminent scientists, who argue:

"Aging has been slowed and healthy lifespan prolonged in many disparate animal models (C. elegans, Drosophila, Ames dwarf mice, etc.). Thus, assuming there are common fundamental mechanisms, it should also be possible to slow aging in humans."

Greater knowledge about aging should bring better management of the debilitating pathologies associated with aging, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, and Alzheimer's. Therapies targeted at the fundamental mechanisms of aging will be instrumental in counteracting these age-related pathologies.

Therefore, this letter is a call to action for greater funding and research into both the underlying mechanisms of aging and methods for its postponement. Such research may yield dividends far greater than equal efforts to combat the age-related diseases themselves. As the mechanisms of aging are increasingly understood, increasingly effective interventions can be developed that will help prolong the healthy and productive life-spans of a great many people.

One of the problems we face in thinking about aging is that it's too commonly regarded as a near-supernatural process, rather than the humdrum result of myriad different breakdowns in DNA copying, cellular repair, and so forth. But, of course, we used to think of various other physical processes, ranging from waxing and waning of the moon to the germination of seeds, as equally supernatural, until we learned enough to understand what was really going on. That seems to be the case here, as well.

As I noted here a while back, this subject seems to be breaking out of the techno-fringes and into the mainstream of popular discourse in a major way this year. I can't help but also note that this year is an election year.

Every voter out there is getting older every day. Many of them are looking at the uglier side of old age, either in themselves or in aging family members. Current health care, which addresses the immediate life-threatening symptoms of aging while leaving people to grow older, more feeble, and less independent, is growing ever more expensive and (in this context, anyway) less satisfactory. It seems to me that there's a lot of political support out there waiting to be tapped, for a program that would address the root cause of old age's ills -- the aging process, what the scientists call "the fundamental mechanisms of aging," rather than just treating the symptoms. If we can make progress in that area, it will also help with the pension crises faced by all the industrialized nations.

Will this manage to become an election issue this time around? I hope so. It's something that -- as those eminent scientists suggest -- deserves more attention.

Glenn Reynolds is a TCS Daily Contributing Editor.



A standard Reynolds piece
It starts off with self-advertising:

I've written here before (on more than one occasion), about the improving prospects for research into slowing or reversing the aging process. (I've also got a chapter on the subject in my book, An Army of Davids, which comes out next week).

It then goes on to say virtually nothing except to call for "greater funding and research". Yep, the law prof, who claims to be a libertarian, is in favor of big government as long as it spends taxpayers' money on programs he likes such as the NIH, the NSF, NASA and "spreading democracy" around the world by force of arms.

Do they know what makes something age?
What would the social consequences be if we lived a healthy life till say 150 years old? When we got to the 140's we would all be looking for the latest medical miracle to keep us alive till 160 and spending a fortune to do so. That would still be the same, just postponed a little longer.

However, other things might not be so sanguine. What would the family be like knowing we will last that long? Could you imagine waiting for the Boss to retire in maybe 60-70 years. How many cruises could you take before there was no new place on earth to see?

It was only a few years ago that some were suggesting doing away with the elderly because they were preventing the young from getting ahead. Interesting set of options released by a new Pandora's box.

Also from what I understand they do not know a lot about why things age. Some things last a couple days while Harriet, the tortoise Darwin brought back from the Galapagos, is currently bringing in the bucks down under as the star of a nature park.

Charlie's theory seems to fall down on age. It does not seem to be a selectable trait. Except for Harriet. Charlie selected her. But then he selected Tom and **** too and they died long ago.

TCS Daily Archives