Sunday, May 14, 2017

The Most Exciting Maybe of the Year

A  link in a recent post on my favorite blog took me to a piece on a recent article from the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam. It describes a procedure which appears to reverse aging in mice. These are early results, they might be wrong, there might be currently unknown problems, and we are not mice. 

But it at least suggests the possibility of not merely slowing aging, which is what most anti-aging research is about, but reversing it.


Brandon Berg said...

Senolysis is an important first step towards reversing three aging process, but it only addresses one of several known fundamental types of damage that occur as part of the aging process. This could potentially delay the aging process significantly in humans, but ultimately true reversal of aging would require addressing the other causes.

If this is something you're interested in, you should be reading the Fight Aging blog as well.

Joe said...

There's a lot going on in that respect:

Anonymous said...

Woah. It sounds as if aging is like accumulating a dysfunctional cellular bureaucracy that can't be fired. . . .

js290 said...

Ketone bodies... fasting and ketogenic diets.

RKN said...

Seriously? There have been thousands (and thousands) of publications over 40 years or more showing favorable outcomes in mice. The main reason nobody finds these "Exciting" anymore is because so very few have translated to humans. This, in spite of the oft-touted 92% genetic similarity of mice and men.

transcendentape said...

I don't like to admit it, but I think you've identified the problem in accepting this as anything other than an oddity. You are not a mice. There is absolutely no reason whatsoever that that any finding from this study should be applicable to humans.

Power Child said...

If I squint hard, I can envision a few upsides to eliminating aging, but many downsides are obvious to me without expending much cognitive effort. The most fundamental is that aside from certain kinds of jellyfish, no creature reverse-ages; the secondary effects of reverse-aging on our complex culture, values, relationships, etc. are completely unknown and it seems highly unlikely we would deal with them in a constructive way. Despite a few perennial "pain points," there is a delicate sort of perfection in our highly evolved state, in which "finite lifespan of 65-85 years" has long been a critical factor. Are we prepared to send that Jenga tower teetering and tottering by removing several rows of bricks at once?

David, as someone who has studied the Amish, I wonder if you have considered this radical technology more carefully than you are letting on. Blithe transhumanism seems not up to your level of thinking.

David Friedman said...

Power Child:

I have thought about the general issue of the effects of slowing or stopping aging for quite a long time; I spent part of a chapter of Future Imperfect on the subject. The main problem with your argument is that stasis is not an option. Whether or not we solve the aging problem, the world is going to change in large and unpredictable ways over the course of the next century due to any of several technological developments--for details see Future Imperfect, webbed on my site. There might be good arguments against one or another of those changes, but "we like things they way they are" isn't one of them, since we are not going to get things the way they are.

The obvious upside to eliminating aging is that I get to live another century or more, and I enjoy living. So do a lot of other people. The less obvious upside is that every time someone dies, valuable skills and knowledge disappear. There are some possible downsides as well, as for any change, but I don't see any large enough to outweigh those.

I have lost people I care about, and I would much rather not have. I don't know if that is true of you as well.

So far as your highly evolved equilibrium, you might consider how many of the central facts on which all past human societies were built no longer hold. Just to take the three most obvious ones:

"It is a wise child who knows his father." Now all it takes is a paternity test.

Modern contraceptives make possible intercourse with negligable risk of pregnancy

In developed countries, getting enough calories is no longer a problem--obesity is now an issue for poor as well as rich. More generally, developed societies are enormously richer than any society prior to the recent past--about twenty to thirty times as rich as the global average through most of history.

Those are not small changes.

gurugeorge said...

The upside to ageing is I think similar to the anti-Malthusian argument - generally, the more brains working on problems the better, and in this case you're talking about the possibility of brains accumulating knowledge and experience for much longer than has hitherto been possible.

For example, as a 57 year old guy, I'm only just starting to feel I'm beginning to get a handle on the big philosophical problems. You know, you start off as a young man thinking it's all obvious and you plump for one thing or another, then as you get older you discover that there are layers and layers of profound depth and difficulty to those problems. That kind of thing (I'm sure it's similar with all sorts of fields and areas - another thing I'm interested in is music, and that, again, is a vast cosmos in and of itself).

Then there's also the fact that general life experience often enriches one's study in any particular area. Perhaps a walk in the Andes you eventually get around to in your 120th year jiggles the brain in such a way that you solve an engineering problem that's been bugging you for years, that kind of thing. Again, the more the merrier all round.

I think also, there's an oddly felicitious accident wrt to the fact that birth rates are going down, while this sort of stuff is coming up. Perhaps we're going to have a human race that's got a more stable population with a lot more older and more experienced people in still-vigorous bodies, and I think that would be a good thing.

Unknown said...

Under which conditions would you be willing to try the treatment in the paper?

Power Child said...


I agree stasis is not an option. I did not mean to paint stasis as the alternative to enthusiastically embracing new revolutionary possibilities. We (as a society, as a species, however you think of it) are indeed on some kind of course, and there are potentially net negative things in store for us on that course, many of which we either cannot avoid or would end up harming ourselves trying to avoid. But reversing the aging process isn't one of them: it isn't going to just happen to us; it requires a ton of effort and initiative on our part. It is an option; we don't even need to decide whether to duck out of the way, we merely need to decide whether to actively pursue it.

It is painful to face our own deaths, to lose loved ones, to know that opportunities and experiences will be missed because our lives will end. But that pain is a known quantity, and we have proven able to deal with it. Meanwhile both the potential upsides and downsides of reverse-aging are an unknown quantity, and we do not yet have ways of dealing with either.

Yes, many central facts of human life have changed rapidly in the past few generations. Consider the fine examples you gave: each one sent shockwaves through our society that continue to reverberate. Take The Pill, for instance: it's been half a century of mass adoption of that particular technology, and the jury is still out on whether it's been a net positive for us.

One of the lessons the Amish have taught me is that while you can't keep things perfectly the same (and perhaps it would be unwise to try anyway), you can keep change slow enough to adapt gracefully to it--if you're very deliberate about what technologies, ideas, values, etc. you're willing to embrace.

Joe said...

When I bring up the theoretical option of reversing the aging process, it amazes me the percentage of people who think it will be somehow worse than the status quo of billions of people dying much earlier than they could otherwise die.

Most of them invoke some sort of theological based and or mystical objection.

Power Child said...

@Joe Munson:

Why do you suppose so many people have that instinct against reversing the aging process? Are they all fools and cowards, or could there be a good reason to possess and even cultivate such an instinct?