On this page we will look at the possibilities available to us in 2020 which could help us to survive until life extension technologies arrive. Science is moving very fast and within the near future we will begin to refine the technologies which will radically extend both our healthspan and longevity. The primary objective must be to remain in good health long enough to reap the rewards that advances in anti aging medicine will yield.
First we should look at where we stand in 2020 based on current figures. Life expectancy at birth had reached 89.5 years in Monaco which is the longest life expectancy in the world but 40 countries are now achieving a life expectancy of over 80 and 25 more of over 78 which is a significant increase over the last 15 years.
The gains during the last 50 years have been significantly stronger among men. Their life expectancy at birth rose by 2.9 years from 2005-2007 alone, interestingly among women it increased by only 1.8 years. The gap between men and women has now been narrowing for many years, for example in Australia the gap is 2 years at 82.8 for men and 84.8 for women, Switzerland is 83.4 for men and 85.3 for women so the gap is now just two years in these typical first world countries and many others whereas in 1965 in Australia a man could expect to live until he was 67.66 and a woman to 74.20 so men have gained over 15 years and woman 10.5 years in 52 years. What is also interesting is that in Australia or Switzerland (our two examples but the UK, Canada and Spain are within 2 or 3 months +/-) if you reach age 60 you can expect to live another 25 years so the chances of a 65 or 70 year old taking advantage of future progress is quite high. Of course all of this is nothing compared to the gains which will be achieved through nanotechnology and biotechnology over the coming 15/30 years.
What do we need to deal with in order to significantly extend human lifespan?
Dr Aubrey de Grey has determined a potentially workable route to end age related ill health around 20 years ago and has worked tirelessly via the SENS foundation to spread the word, also Googles Calico could potentially have an enormous impact in the coming decade due to it's virtually unlimited funding although currently there seems to be no indication they are making significant progress which makes little sense considering the budget runs to billions and many biotech companies such as Unity Biotech are making significant progress with a fraction of the funding. The key here is that we must examine all areas where research is important and which could impact our chance of personal survival.
Personally I don't think we will find an actual CURE for aging in the foreseeable future. Whilst it would be ideal we must be realistic and work on the basis that it will probably not happen. In my opinion, we must work from where our knowledge currently stands. Our strongest area of knowledge lies in that, although we understand the reasons why the body deteriorates with age, we do not have the requisite knowledge to intervene in a way that influences the actual ongoing metabolic processes so must find an alternative fix until we do.
I am often asked "how long before we can cure aging?" My answer is that many people including myself see a better than 50% chance of controlling aging within 10 to 20 years, when you look at this time frame the whole issue starts to become very interesting. As far as the time span for an actual cure, I would hazard a guess that it is at least somewhere toward the end of the century and possibly much longer unless there is a sudden breakthrough but AI crunching the data could be a game changer. The alternative approach in the absence of being able to predict when a cure might arrive is to aim at controlling aging and repairing the accumulated damage, this should be our primary goal because we understand how the damage is laid down even though we understand very little about actually slowing aging or influencing metabolism. This is the essence of Aubrey de Grey's SENS theory regarding the engineering approach and it holds the best prospect of success in the first half of this century. Having said that other very well funded organizations are waging war on aging so when you factor everything together it's very positive, examples of these companies are Human Longevity Inc and Unity Biotech these two show the field is attracting serious funding and these organizations are not alone there are many others both big and small so clearly we are at the beginning of a serious push to tackle the problem which aging and age related ill health poses at some point to everyone currently alive unless we develop effective interventions.
I am pretty confident that with SENS and other routes being explored that we do not have to find a cure for aging itself, therefore, we bypass the problems that our lack of knowledge in the area of metabolism and the aging process creates because what Aubrey de Grey terms “engineered negligible senescence" can potentially extend life indefinitely while not actually curing the underlying aging process which is allowed to continue as normal.
The key lies in the fact that we have a sufficient understanding of genetic and biochemical processes that lead to metabolic damage that we can already envision what is termed the engineering approach. Aubrey frequently uses the question "how long will a house last?" Of course, the answer is that, if you look after it, it can last forever! The key here is that Aubrey proposes that we find a method to undo the damage that has accumulated over the first 50 or 60 years of a person’s life. Repairing the damage means we do not need to understand all the processes of aging, only that we need to know enough to extend healthy lifespan by let's say 30 years.
How would it work in practice?
It’s actually quite easy to follow and what this means in essence is this, let’s say you are 60 years old at the time of the first intervention and that this early and fundamentally imperfect treatment repairs 75% of the accumulated damage. Then 10 years later you would reach the chronological age of 70 but would be biologically only 45 years old and look and feel like a 45 year old. We now come to the vital key to the whole theory which is this, let's say 20 years after the first treatment, when you are chronologically 80 but biologically 55 years old, clearly both your doctor and yourself agree that the damage that was not repaired in the first treatment combined with further damage accumulated over the 20 years since is again posing a potential health risk. At this point it is time for another intervention. It is now that the progress in medicine comes into play because, by the time 20 years has gone by, anti-aging medicine will have moved on significantly and, whilst the first treatment bought you an extra 20 or 30 years by repairing a fair amount of the damage accumulated over 60 years of living, it did not repair it all. 20 years later progress will mean that the latest treatment will not only repair all of the damage corrected by the first intervention but also some of the damage that was not able to be repaired 20 years earlier so in essence you are now chronologically 80 (but biologically in your 50s) and having intervention number 2 will have repaired some damage that was not able to be addressed 20 years before by the first intervention - along with the 20 years of damage that has arisen in the intervening 20 years.This means that, whilst you will have aged 20 years, chronologically you will be biologically younger after the second intervention than you were after the first. It is my opinion that this second intervention will still not tackle all the damage but the treatments will get more and more effective with every 15 to 20 year interval and will certainly be enough to keep a person in good health and keep resetting the clock.
This is the essence of Aubrey de Grey's theory and pretty much any other theory based on rejuvenation and damage repair, essentially, it's a short cut to radical life extension. It is not a cure but it acknowledges that it does not need to be because it simply buys time and leads to a situation where regular interventions at say 15/20 year intervals with increasing effective treatments could extend life virtually indefinitely.
Will it happen?
My opinion is that we are well on the way in a number of areas such as gene therapy, stem cell therapies, tissue engineering and numerous other types regenerative medicine. Progress depends on funding although a number of factors will drive things forward and interest is increasing among both Scientists and the general population.
The last 24 months from December 2018 to December 2020 have revealed some very interesting work and below are just eight examples but these all indicate that we are making significant progress in a variety of areas.
See images of two of the mice born on the same day
The greatest driving force in many countries is that the baby boomers are aging and this will place increasing demands on healthcare systems over the coming decades. The baby boomers were born between 1946 and 1964 and are therefore between 56 and 74 years old (in 2020) there are currently around 80 million baby boomers in the U.S and around 25% of the UK population falls into that category the older baby boomers will already be needing increased medical care but in 15 years when the oldest are in their late 80s and the youngest are over 70 we will face a disaster because the health services will be overwhelmed. When a person reaches their final 12 months of life things will get worse because the average person costs more in medical expenditure in the last year of their life than all the other years put together. Also, the number of workers is declining in most developed countries which means that we need to keep the existing population working, generating tax revenues and productive for as long as possible if only to cover the pensions and medical bills.
These are just two reasons rejuvenative medicine is vitally important, jointly these two issues pose a serious economic problem to many governments worldwide. So what time-frame do I put on it? I made a projection some time back and, based on current research, I feel we will be pretty much able to treat and manage aging in somewhere between 10 and 20 years given sufficient motivation and research. The research must especially be applied in the vital areas because although many of the therapies are progressing well already some are lagging behind and without a comprehensive intervention targeting all of the types of damage that arise due to aging the treatments individually will most likely just allow a person to grind on for 5 or 6 years. Of course there are other routes other than the engineering approach and I think even Aubrey de Grey knows SENS is only a means to to get a foot on the ladder but clearly once SENS strategies are perfected they will certainly save millions of lives and prevent a great deal of suffering and in any case they offer the best chance of success in the near future.
As I see it there are five technologies which will ultimately lead to radical life extension during the course of this century, these are advanced Biotechnology, Nanotechnology, Advanced Robotics/cybernetics/bionics, Gene-therapies and Robust Artificial Intelligence often just referred to just as AI, the effect these technologies will have on life extension differs greatly but my guess is that there are two potential approaches which are likely to come to fruition, one is SENS which is biotechnology and offers the best short term path to success, the other is a combination of robust artificial intelligence combined with whole brain emulation via nanotechnology. Whole brain emulation is where the brain is uploaded to a digital medium and increasingly enhanced and replaced with non biological components until it reaches a stage where the non biological components can model the biological part so accurately the original brains loss would be irrelevant from a functional perspective - this I feel is hard to put a timeframe on but 30 years minimum seems a reasonable guesstimate so I am assuming a 15 to 20 year gap between advanced biotechnology interventions to manage aging and nanotechnology being able to be comprehensively deployed. Personally I feel that the long term outcome will ultimately be a combination of the five, the crucial point is that each of these technologies individually has the potential to get us pretty much to where we need to go. What this means is that for the development of radical life extension to fail all of these technologies must also fail and that simply won’t happen so my guess is we will reach the stage of having an increasingly decisive level of control over the aging process within 10 to 20 years. We must also factor in that there is also a possibility that we could find a faster route and that treatments to lengthen telomeres might have a greater benefit than assumed and research published by Stanford University at this link tends to bear this out. Of course senolytics also look very promising. These treatments alone would not be comprehensive but could easily add 10 years and greatly improve overall health.
What I find very interesting regarding the research into telomeres is that until recently it was not even certain whether the relationship between telomeres and aging was causal so that rendered the whole area very speculative but the recent research suggests the shortening is a consequence of aging and shortened telomeres have a very negative impact on health and longevity. Most of the current research seems to support what Dr Bill Andrews from Sierra Sciences has been saying for years. The link to Sierra Sciences website is here . My feeling is that the the implications of combined stem cell therapies, tissue engineering, senescent cell removal and telomere lengthening should mean we can greatly improved our abilities regarding biomedical repairs within the next 5 to 15 years.
Is the war on aging worthwhile?
If you are unsure whether this is a war worth fighting consider this. When the war on aging is won (and it's a case of when not if) 100,000 people per day would be saved! This is because, of the 150,000 people who die each day, two thirds die from aging. This is a staggering figure and what this means is that, of nearly 60 million people who die each year, 40 million die from age related issues. I believe we will achieve significant positive results within the next decade in research on mice and that the knowledge acquired will then be transferred to humans and, hopefully, end the horrific descent into senility and old age of the millions of people who linger in retirement homes and suffer the indignities that come with the passing years.
Conquering aging is pretty much the same as beating any other disease, albeit aging is a complex issue involving many different processes but that does not mean that it is not a realistic goal to render it a chronic albeit manageable condition within a 10 to 20 year timeframe.