On Lesswrong JackH posted a very interesting overview of aging and the scientific progress made to reverse it.
If we think about aging as a disease like any other, it does indeed pose a huge problem:
Aging is the biggest killer worldwide, and also the largest source of morbidity. Aging kills 100,000 people per day; more than twice the sum of all other causes of death. This equates to 37 million people – a population the size of Canada – dying per year of aging. In developed countries, 9 out of 10 deaths are due to aging.
Aging also accounts for more than 30% of all disability-adjusted life years lost (DALYs); more than any other single cause. Deaths due to aging are not usually quick and painless, but preceded by 10-15 years of chronic illnesses such as cancer, type 2 diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease. Quality of life typically deteriorates in older age, and the highest rates of depression worldwide are among the elderly.
As I explained in more detail in this post on whether donating blood / plasma could reverse aging, mortality in humans roughly doubles every eight years. This is the so-called Gompertz law of mortality. Currently humanity is spending trillions of Dollars every year to fight the symptoms of that aging process. JackH instead suggests we should spend much more on fighting aging as the root cause itself:
Anti-aging is more feasible for extending healthy lifespan rather than solving the individual diseases of aging due to Taueber’s paradox and the highly comorbid nature of age-related diseases. Even if a person survives one age-related disease such as cancer, another (e.g. diabetes, cardiovascular disease) will kill them if aging is not solved. This accounts for the much smaller increase in healthy lifespan associated with curing the diseases of aging, such as cancer (2-3 years), versus slowing aging itself (30+ years) […]
The difference between anti-aging and current medicine is the former prevents illness by targeting the hallmarks of aging, whereas the latter intervenes once a disease has emerged. If we compare current medical interventions associated with geriatrics with anti-aging – the former extends unhealthy lifespan, whereas only the latter extends healthy lifespan.
He then goes into some detail on some of the the current approaches to extending life expectancy:
- Parabiosis (blood exchange)
- Metabolic manipulation (mTOR inhibitors)
- Senolytics – drugs that kill senescent cells
- Cellular reprogramming
These approaches look somewhat promising in animal models, but to date there is no conclusive human trial data available. If you want to learn more, check out the original post.