Healthy Life Extension
Squaring the Mortality Curve or Extending Longevity?
posted on February 4th, 2013
Dear Future Centenarian,
The majority who die from aging don™t usually do so comfortably or quickly. They linger with pain and accelerating debilitation until life ends.
There are those who prefer to spend scarce resources to œsquare the mortality curve. That means instead of lingering for years, they suggest that a better alternative is to keep people healthy as long as possible and then have them pass relatively quickly and peacefully.
That™s actually a good option if we had a choice¦ and if it were simply either/or. But what about a third choice¦ unwinding the mysteries of the aging process so we age without aging?
Now I™m all in favor of squaring the mortality curve. Anything we can do to avoid suffering and premature death is obviously positive. But not at the expense of solving aging. Dying badly or dying comfortably is still dying. And we aim to avoid premature death at all costs.
And by œpremature, I mean dying from aging. Someday, it will be unheard of. And the sooner we can speed up that day™s arrival, the more lives we™ll preserve.
Reason uncovered some interesting data on this topic:
Back in the Fight Aging! archives, you'll find a post on breaking out historical data on increases in human longevity into two components: firstly an increase in the average years lived, and secondly a reduction in early mortality - that more people are reaching ever closer to the average.
This second statistical behavior is often presented as compression of morbidity (squaring the mortality curve), with the goal being to reduce the time spent in ill health at the end of life.
There is some debate over whether compression of morbidity is in any way a realistic or even useful goal for medical science, as opposed to aiming for increased human longevity through repair and reduction in the ongoing damage that causes aging.
If you consider aging in terms of reliability theory, for example, it seems dubious that one could engineer the machineries of human life to last a set time and then fall apart very rapidly at the end - at least not without deliberately making it fall apart at the end. If all you are doing is consistently removing damage, then you extend the length of life, but don't do much about the time taken to fall apart when you stop repairing damage.
In any case, here is a recent paper that revisits this structural decomposition of increased longevity. The researchers here suggest that it is longevity, not compression of morbidity, that is the important factor:
In low-mortality countries, life expectancy is increasing steadily. This increase can be disentangled into two separate components: the delayed incidence of death (i.e. the rectangularization of the survival curve) and the shift of maximal age at death to the right (i.e. the extension of longevity).
We studied the secular increase of life expectancy at age 50 in nine European countries between 1922 and 2006. The respective contributions of rectangularization and longevity to increasing life expectancy are quantified with a specific tool.
For men, an acceleration of rectangularization was observed in the 1980s in all nine countries, whereas a deceleration occurred among women in six countries in the 1960s. These diverging trends are likely to reflect the gender-specific trends in smoking.
As for longevity, the extension was steady from 1922 in both genders in almost all countries. The gain of years due to longevity extension exceeded the gain due to rectangularization. This predominance over rectangularization was still observed during the most recent decades.
So maintain you healthy habits, but never lose sight of what™s going to preserve your existence, not just delaying what most still regard as œthe inevitable.
LATEST HEADLINES FROM FIGHT AGING!
A PODCAST INTERVIEW WITH AUBREY DE GREY Friday, FebruaryÂ 1, 2013
From a few weeks back, an audio interview with Aubrey de Grey of the SENS Research Foundation:
"Anti-aging scientist and biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey told [the host] about his work with the SENS Foundation, an organization he founded with the purpose of defeating aging. According to him, aging is treated as a disease that should be defeated by targeting the 7 cellular activities that cause us to age.
WRAPPING NANOPARTICLES IN CELL MEMBRANES Friday, FebruaryÂ 1, 2013
Here is another small step on the way towards the creation of artificial cells as medical devices.
If you can wrap nanoparticles in cell membranes, then it™s not hard to see that disguising any arbitrary nanomachinery that way is on the agenda - such as those that can dispense or create proteins, or perform other tasks inside our tissues."
VEGETARIANISM ASSOCIATED WITH LOWER RISK OF HEART DISEASE Thursday, January 31, 2013
Vegetarianism is associated with health benefits such as reduced risk of age-related disease.
A COMMENTARY ON RADICAL LIFE EXTENSION Thursday, January 31, 2013
Here is a commentary I noticed recently, not entirely positive when it comes radical life extension, but the positive portion is quoted below:
"Aging, along with the physical and mental deterioration that characterizes it, is undesirable. Potential economic and social difficulties notwithstanding, living longer and healthier lives is a positive and productive premise.
THE VIEW OF MORTALITY AS NOT EASILY EXPLAINABLE BY COMMON GENETIC VARIANTS Wednesday, January 30, 2013
It is likely the case that natural variations in longevity emerge from the interaction of many, many minor genetic differences with lifestyle and other environmental factors.
The majority of these contributions to longevity will be tiny, and their presence will vary widely across a population: "Twin studies have estimated the heritability of longevity to be approximately 20-30%.
FOUNDATIONAL WORK FOR NERVOUS SYSTEM REPAIR Wednesday, January 30, 2013 http://www.fightaging.org/archives/2013/01/foundational-work-for-nervous-system-repair.php
An example of researchers working on the tools needed to guide cell growth:
"The aim of the research was to find a biomaterial able to sustain the population of neural stem cells and to generate new differentiated cells in order to start the development of an implant that allows brain regeneration.
MAGNETIC LEVITATION IN TISSUE ENGINEERING Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Researchers here demonstrate a way to use magnetic levitation to make small pieces of tissue grow more naturally, though one suspects it won't scale to much larger tissue sections.
The focus here, as for much of tissue engineering at this time, is to produce tissues as close to the real thing as possible, suitable for testing and research, applications where the small amount is not an issue:
ADVOCATING INTERMITTENT FASTING Tuesday, January 29, 2013
This pop-sci piece extols the virtues of intermittent fasting, though the author gives it weight over calorie restriction that it doesn't merit at this time.
The evidence is much stronger for the benefits of calorie restriction, as it has been studied more extensively.
HUMAN BRAIN SIMULATION PROJECT FUNDED Monday, January 28, 2013
An early step towards whole brain emulation seems to be underway, though as always funding past what is in hand now remains a question mark:
"The European Commission has selected the two research proposals it will fund to the tune of half-a-billion euros each after a two-year, high-profile contest.
ALTERING EYE CELLS TO RESTORE VISION Monday, January 28, 2013
An approach to therapy for degenerative blindness that involves reprogramming existing cells rather than introducing new ones:
"Doctors may one day treat some forms of blindness by altering the genetic program of the light-sensing cells of the eye. [Working] in mice with retinitis pigmentosa, a disease that causes gradual blindness, the researchers reprogrammed the cells in the eye that enable night vision.