Monthly Archives: February 2013

Why It Is Ethical to Cure the Disease of Aging

Arthur Caplan, renowned bioethicist, presents simply brilliant argumentation that aging is an unnatural process in this paper. It’s a must-read. I’d love to highlight the main thoughts that I find are profoundly important for the whole fighting aging field.

Why do the doctors treat atherosclerosis and cancer, but not the physiological changes and deteriorations, associated with aging?

Progeria—rapid ageing in a child—is considered a horrible disease, whereas the same changes occurring 80 years later are considered normal and unworthy of medical interest.

The reason is because aging is not being thought of as a disease by doctors and the rest of the world. But it should be!

… in medical dictionaries, disease is almost always defined as any pathological change in the body. Pathological change is inevitably defined as constituting any morbid process in the body… ageing would there- fore seem to have a prima facie claim to being counted as a disease.

One thing that does differentiate ageing from other processes or states traditionally classified as disease is the fact that ageing is perceived as a natural or normal process.

So, the main thesis of the article is that aging is an unnatural process. Dr. Caplan says that if that were not true, then there must have been compelling evidence that aging is natural “and, as such, intrinsically good thing.” This brings us to figuring out what is believed to be natural in medicine. Well, it turns out, one view is that it’s common and normal process that affects 100% of the population.

Coronary atherosclerosis, neoplasms, high blood pressure, sore throats, colds, tooth decay and depression are all nearly universal in their distribution and seem to be inevitable phenomena, yet we would hardly call any of these things natural. The inevitability of infectious disease does not cause the physician to dismiss infections as natural occurrences of no particular medical interest.

The other point of view on what is natural and what’s not comes from considering purpose and function. In order to decide whether aging is natural or not, we should define its function. There are two explanations. The first one is religious, where the vindictive god wants the people to remember they are morally weak. As Dr. Caplan notes, this can’t be used as a scientific explanation, which leaves us with the second point of view “that the purpose or function of ageing is to clear away the old to make way for the new.” Evolutionary biologists tried to explain what aging is and why it is needed based on the concept of natural selection.

More surprisingly, the scientific explanation of ageing as serving an evolutionary role is also not true, because it rests on a faulty evolutionary analysis.

Given that selective forces act on individuals and their genotypes and not species, it makes no sense to speak of ageing as serving an evolutionary function or purpose to benefit the species.

I find this thought genius. It seems to me so obvious now when I’ve read it. Indeed, this has always been overlooked by aging biologists. Evolutionary theories have always seemed so dangerously appealing that it might have drawn aging biologists (like Tom Kirkwood, for example) away from fighting aging. A lot of scientists still think aging is natural and I believe the evolutionary theories have played a major role in forming this belief. This may be the underlying reason why researchers can’t accept the thought that aging can and should be cured. Dr. Caplan defines aging in the following way:

Ageing exists, then, as a consequence of a lack of evolutionary foresight; it is simply a by-product of selective forces that work to increase the chances of reproductive suc- cess. Senescence has no function; it is simply the inadvertent subversion of organic func- tion, later in life, in favour of maximizing reproductive advantage early in life.

The common belief that ageing serves a function or purpose, if this belief is based on a misapprehension of evolutionary theory, is mistaken. And, if this is so, it would seem that the common belief that ageing is a natural process is also mistaken. And if that is true, and if it is actually the case that what occurs during the ageing process parallels the changes that occur during paradigmatic examples of disease (Boorse, 1975), then it would be reasonable to consider ageing as a disease.

The explanation of why ageing occurs has many of the attributes of a stochastic or chance phenomenon. And this makes ageing unnatural and in no way an intrinsic part of human nature. As such, there is no reason why it is intrinsically wrong to try to reverse or cure ageing.

There is no reason why we can’t call aging a disease. There is no ethical reason why we shouldn’t try to slow down or reverse aging. There is no ethical reason why we shouldn’t fight aging – the worst disease of all times.

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Bill Gates Really Wants to Become Immortal?

In the recent Reddit Ask-Me-Anything session Bill Gates was asked what was left in his bucket list and he answered “Don’t die…”

This is huge. However, Mr. Gates sounded like he has no idea what to do in particular to achieve that. Immortality won’t happen on its own. In order to become immortal one has to slow down aging first. This can be done by funding research aimed at deciphering the mechanisms of aging and creating  interventions to postpone, stop and reverse the detrimental processes of aging. Mr. Gates is one of those few people in the world who can actually secure significant progress in extending human longevity and reaching immortality.

If Mr. Gates supports the following scientists, he has a chance on becoming immortal. Here is the list of researchers, whose work is credible and productive: Nir Barzilai, Andrzej Bartke, Mikhail Blagosklonny, Maria Blasco, Judy Campisi, Claudio Franceschi, David Gems, Brian Kennedy, Cynthia Kenyon, Brian Kraemer, Valter Longo, Gordon Lithgow, Victoria Lunyak, Richard Miller, Richard Morimoto, Alexey Moskalev, Thomas Perls, Robert Shmookler Reis, Steven Spindler, Yousin Suh, Jan Vijg.

So, Mr. Gates, where is your money?

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Judy Campisi Shares Her Thoughts about Aging in Scientific American

Judith Campisi, professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

One of the questions in the Scientific American interview of one of the top gerontologists, Judy Campisi, is really intriguing. Here’s the question and Dr. Campisi’s answer:

What would you say is one of the biggest mysteries of aging research?
Why do organisms with remarkable genetic similarity have sometimes remarkable differences in life span?

We know that for the most part, many of the processes that go on in the human body also go on in yeast and mice. Yet, yeast live a few days, a mouse lives about three years, and people live for decades. We really do not know what evolution has done to take basically the same genes and produce different life spans.

I think this is probably the most important question in aging research, because answering it may lead to those mysteries, and subsequently, clues to the problem of aging that we are now missing. What are those odd lifespans/metabolic patters/gene expression profiles/regenerative capabilities that certain animals have, but others don’t? What is that scientists dream of investigating, but can’t because of lack of funding and low chances of getting funds for such unconventional studies?

What mysteries of aging do you know?

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