Friday, September 19, 2014

Who Wants to Live Forever?

Whew...a very long article on anti-aging technologies which actually seem to be pretty far out. A few observations the article makes: 
“For millennia, if not for eons—anthropology continuously pushes backward the time of human origin—life expectancy was short. The few people who grew old were assumed, because of their years, to have won the favor of the gods. The typical person was fortunate to reach 40.”
Hey, wait a second here...seems to me we have some sort of historical records from at least 2500 years ago in which ancient thinkers ponders the shortness of a normative 70ish year lifespan. Like for example this observation that was recorded a few years back
“As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, Or if due to strength, eighty years, Yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; For soon it is gone and we fly away.”  – Psalm 90:10
Also Plato, that guy was around 80 when he died.
Oh yeah, also what about the dude in The Highlander? He was pretty old. Yeah anyway...

So maybe we are just now getting back to the average lifespan of various pre-Modern eras in history. Well, at the least compared to a couple hundred years ago, how is that we’re living longer life spans now?
 “Viewed globally, the lengthening of life spans seems independent of any single, specific event. It didn’t accelerate much as antibiotics and vaccines became common. Nor did it retreat much during wars or disease outbreaks. A graph of global life expectancy over time looks like an escalator rising smoothly. The trend holds, in most years, in individual nations rich and poor; the whole world is riding the escalator.”
In other words, we don’t know. No problem. Keep trying to figure it out.
So can pharmaceuticals or medical science be leveraged to create new ways of expanding lifespans?
“Drugs that lengthen health span are becoming to medical researchers what vaccines and antibiotics were to previous generations in the lab: their grail. If health-span research is successful, pharmaceuticals as remarkable as those earlier generations of drugs may result. In the process, society might learn the answer to an ancient mystery: Given that every cell in a mammal’s body contains the DNA blueprint of a healthy young version of itself, why do we age at all?
Straight from invertebrates to people Here in our freezers we have 100 or so compounds that extend life in invertebrates,” says Gordon Lithgow, a geneticist at the Buck Institute. He walks with me through labs situated on a campus of modernistic buildings that command a dreamlike view of San Pablo Bay, and encourage dreamlike thoughts. The 100 compounds in the freezer? “What we don’t know is if they work in people.”
So I guess we don’t know on that one either.
Have we gotten anywhere with any actual discoveries recently?
“In worms, genes called daf-2 and daf-16 can change in a way that causes the invertebrates to live twice as long as is natural, and in good vigor. A molecular biologist named Cynthia Kenyon, among the first hires at Calico, made that discovery more than two decades ago, when she was a researcher at UC San Francisco. By manipulating the same genes in mice, Kenyon has been able to cause them to live longer, with less cancer than mice in a control group: that is, with a better health span. The daf-16 gene is similar to a human gene called foxo3, a variant of which is linked to exceptional longevity. A drug that mimics this foxo3 variant is rumored to be among Calico’s initial projects.”
So this highly inconclusive article surmises: SOME GENETIC THERAPIES MAY COME TO LIGHT, (maybe so, maybe not).
I wonder how we would test and verify those therapies on humans.Anyway, so what is it that older people are doing differently that is allowing them to age longer?  
“Most of the 20th-century gains in longevity came from reduced infant mortality, and those were onetime gains.” Infant mortality in the United States trails some other nations’, but has dropped so much—down to one in 170—that little room for improvement remains. “There’s tremendous statistical impact on life expectancy when the young are saved,” Olshansky says. “A reduction in infant mortality saves the entire span of a person’s life."

So, I spent all that time reading this article just for the Atlantic to tell me that surviving childhood is helpful if you like the idea of living a long time???
Well, that was inconclusive but interesting.

Also, as we learned in The Highlander, it helps to live a long time if you can avoid having your head lopped off by a really big sword.

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