Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Status of Research on Human Aging

Longevity is the new alternative energy
With $10m quickly raised by the Methuselah Foundation, VCs just beginning to see the opportunity and continually soaring healthcare costs, the longevity market could easily become as big as the alternative energy/climate change solutions market has become now.

Longevity research status
Grossly generalizing, the main focus in aging research is figuring out how to get processes that already occur, in the young and in cancer for example, to occur at other times, in the old. The optimum approach may include both reverse engineering and forward engineering in the form of synthetic biology as has been successful in other biological research areas like gene synthesis.

Aging is multidisciplinary, comprising at minimum the study of stem cells, immunology, cancer, DNA damage, tissue engineering, genetic engineering, regenerative medicine and micronutrients.

A comprehensive collection of anti-aging research findings was presented at the Aging 2008 conference June 27-29 at UCLA. The current developmental stage of aging research is early, perhaps in the second inning. Groundwork is being laid, phenomena are being documented, understanding of general mechanisms is sought, existing processes are being enumerated and early cycles of testing have begun primarily on flies and mice.

The seven primary causes of aging are DNA mutations in the cell nucleus and mitochondria, junk that builds up inside and outside cells, cells sticking together and cell loss and death. These are described at length, together with potential solutions, in aging research pioneer Aubrey de Grey’s book, Ending Aging and in the journal Rejuvenation Research. De Grey’s organization, the Methuselah Foundation, provides grants to anti-aging researchers. Some of the freshest thinking so far has included biomedical remediation, therapeutic organisms purpose-catalyzed in the body and the possibility of removing the overly-prone-to-damage mitochondrial DNA.

Generalized summary of Aging 2008 research findings:

  • Applying (non-individual specific) substances from the young to the old appears to work
  • With aging, not only does "good stuff" (cells, processes, etc.) decline but "bad stuff" also arises
  • The quality of the biological environment facilitates or inhibits activity and repair
  • Treatments may be most effective when begun in youth or middle age
  • The goal is to extend healthspan not just lifespan

DIY biohacking and the cocktail problem

Every bit as interesting as the scientific talks were the informal discussions of the wide range of interventions, treatments, supplements and other anti-aging remedies in use by conference participants. The cocktail problem is how multiple remedies taken in concert may be impacting each other. Never has there been a market with such demand and so few offerings as for anti-aging remedies.

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