[extropy-chat] The Longevity Dividend

Hal Finney hal at finney.org
Sat Mar 11 00:50:03 UTC 2006

S. Jay Olshansky is a widely quoted aging expert, perhaps best known for
his odd Scientific American article a few years ago showing how humans
could be redesigned for longer lifespans.  The stout little creatures
with their extra muscles and knees that bend backwards were quite bizarre,
and I doubt that anyone will be rushing to genetically engineer themselves
this way.

Olshansky has also been an outspoken opponent of over-optimistic life
extension claims.  But now he has come forward with a proposal for a
major research into not life extension, but health extension, which he
calls The Longevity Dividend.


> What we have in mind is not the unrealistic pursuit of dramatic increases
> in life expectancy, let alone the kind of biological immortality best
> left to science fiction novels. Rather, we envision a goal that is
> realistically achievable: a modest deceleration in the rate of aging
> sufficient to delay all aging-related diseases and disorders by about
> seven years. This target was chosen because the risk of death and most
> other negative attributes of aging tends to rise exponentially throughout
> the adult lifespan with a doubling time of approximately seven years.
> Such a delay would yield health and longevity benefits greater than
> what would be achieved with the elimination of cancer or heart disease.
> And we believe it can be achieved for generations now alive.
> If we succeed in slowing aging by seven years, the age-specific risk of
> death, frailty, and disability will be reduced by approximately half at
> every age. People who reach the age of 50 in the future would have the
> health profile and disease risk of today's 43-year-old; those aged 60
> would resemble current 53-year-olds, and so on. Equally important, once
> achieved, this seven-year delay would yield equal health and longevity
> benefits for all subsequent generations, much the same way children
> born in most nations today benefit from the discovery and development
> of immunizations.
> A growing chorus of scientists agrees that this objective is
> scientifically and technologically feasible. How quickly we see
> success depends in part on the priority and support devoted to the
> effort. Certainly such a great goal - to win back, on average, seven years
> of healthy life - requires and deserves significant resources in time,
> talent, and treasury. But with the mammoth investment already committed in
> caring for the sick as they age, and the pursuit of ever-more expensive
> treatments and surgical procedures for existing fatal and disabling
> diseases, the pursuit of the Longevity Dividend would be modest by
> comparison. In fact, because a healthier, longer-lived population will
> add significant wealth to the economy, an investment in the Longevity
> Dividend would likely pay for itself.

Olshansky and his team call for a $3 billion government program: 1/3 to
go to basic research on aging; 1/3 for research on age related diseases;
1/6 for clinical trials of anti-aging medicine; and 1/6 for a preventive
medicine program that would cover accidents and lifestyle issues.

> With this effort, we believe it will be possible to intervene in
> aging among the baby boom cohorts, and all generations after them
> would enjoy the health and economic benefits of delayed aging. Such
> a monetary commitment would be small when compared to that spent each
> year on Medicare alone, but it would pay dividends an order of magnitude
> greater than the investment. And it would do so for current and future
> generations.

Well, they better get going pronto if they are going to help baby boomers,
some of whom are turning 60.  Not a lot of time left for some magic
drug that's going to buy them 7 years.  But surely the prospects are
more promising for interventions that could be applied at a younger age.

Olshansky provides a footnote to buttress his claim that a "growing
chorus of scientists agrees" that his 7 year objective is feasible.
But the footnote is to his "Position Statement on Human Aging",
the whole thrust of which is quite the opposite.  It is mostly a harshly
critical condemnation of existing life-extension technologies.  There is
a final paragraph or two calling for more research and offering a glimmer
of optimism, but for the most part it is gloom and doom straight through.
It hardly seems to justify his claim.

One ironic note is that there is a sidebar at the bottom of the article
from The Scientist about a possible anti-aging drug!  Presumably Olshansky
did not have control over the placement of this note which somewhat contradicts
and undercuts the pessimism in his "position statement":

> Recent results indicate that an approved diabetes drug, metformin, may
> battle aging. Approved in 1995, metformin was marketed as Glucophage. Now
> it and generic versions are the most widely used oral medication for
> type II diabetes. "There is a huge natural experiment with people on
> metformin," says Don Ingram, of the US National Institute on Aging. And,
> some data are beginning to look promising.
> Animal studies with metformin show increased age and reduced tumor load,
> and although no clinical studies are looking directly at effects on aging,
> a variety of ongoing clinical trials in humans are investigating type
> II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, liver disease, and polycystic ovary
> syndrome. The UK Prospective Diabetes Study 34 showed that in patients
> with type II diabetes, metformin treatment resulted in reductions in
> end-organ damage, myocardial infarction, and all-cause mortality. Stephen
> Spindler, professor of biochemistry at the University of California,
> San Diego, has shown that metformin out-performs short-term calorie
> restriction in inducing the gene-expression changes associated with
> long-term calorie restriction.
> Not everyone is persuaded by the metformin results, however. Side
> effects, such as a small risk of lactic acidosis that can be fatal in
> certain patients, are not likely worth the risk of lifelong treatment
> for aging. Nir Barzilai at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New
> York says, "Meformin is a terrific drug used in a large prospective study
> to prevent diabetes, but this does not mean it has any effects on aging
> beyond its specific role in preventing one of the age-related diseases."

Sounds like pretty good stuff if you don't mind this lactic acidosis risk.
It would be nice to see some serious research done on its anti aging
properties, and perhaps some variant could be found without this form
of toxicity.  No doubt this is the kind of thing that Olshansky's 3
billion dollars would go towards.


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