The postponement of ageing

 

Based on a paper published by the Longevity Science Panel, "What is ageing? Can we delay it?", the Working Party has sought to establish a number of associated catalysts in order to facilitate certain uses of this work. 

 

In particular, the paper aims to "provide an interesting introduction to the topic and be a starting point for debate about emerging age-delaying interventions and their likely impact".

 

This is very compatible with the Longevity Catalysts framework to the extent it seeks to identify what anti-ageing developments are currently on the horizon.

 

The paper is split into a number of sections covering (inter alia):

 

  • Theories about WHY ageing occurs in humans

  • Possible mechanisms that could govern HOW it happens

  • A number of interventions that might be able to DELAY one or more steps in the (perceived) ageing process. 

 

The last of these, in particular, has the potential for use in the context of Longevity Catalysts.

 

Before we go on to be more specific, some of the key messages conveyed by the paper were as follows:

 

  • The ageing process (encompassing the "HOW" and "WHY" questions above) is extremely complex and far from being fully understood.

  • Accordingly, the paper concludes that it is unlikely that a single "anti-ageing silver bullet" exists. Instead, a range of approaches and strategies is likely to be more effective.

  • A significant deceleration in the rate of ageing is required in order to have a tangible impact on lifespan.  No such treatment is in development or seems likley to appear in the next 10 years. 

 

With this last point in mind, it is worth reiterting that the remit of the Longevity Catalysts Working Party is to anticipate possible triggers to lifespan extension without (possibly spurious) reference to, or comments around, the associated likelihood.  Furthermore, insurance companies in the UK are dutybound to consider "extreme" scenarios as part of their regulatory capital assessment and, accordingly, one view is that this should bring all possibilities into focus.  The paper was also written before the announcement that a widely available drug (metformin) is now undergoing clinical trials in order to help assess its anti-ageing properties - more details below.    

 

Mini-catalysts

 

The concept of "mini catalysts" (also discussed in the FAQs)  goes hand-in-hand with the idea that changes can be brought about by a series of small evolutionary steps as well as via the more spectacular route of significant breakthroughs.  The long road to changes in smoking behaviour is littered with events of varying magnitude.  Similarly, it is anticipated by the Working Party that the path to the existence of an effective anti-ageing treatment is a long and distant one.  The various "mini-catalysts" envisaged are thus as follows:

 

1. The emergence of a "Grand unifying theory of ageing" that significantly enhances our understanding of WHY ageing occurs.

 

2. Research into senescent cells (currently active in 20 to 30 worldwide laboratories) confirms that cellular senescence is a major driving force of ageing and its associated diseases.  A good description of cellular senescence and how it is believed to be linked to the ageing process can be found here via the Khan Academy.   

 

3. The Medical Research Counsel in the UK reclassifies the "study of ageing" to somehow give it parity with the the study of "disease" leading to greater funding.

 

Note that the Working Party is aware of opposing, and perhaps equally valid, views that points 2 and 3 may have little or no impact - thus firmly placing these potential events into the "mni-catalysts" camp. 

 

It is also worth noting, however, that tackling this issue (ageing in humans) is seen as the target for considerable (venture) capital investment globally. The size of any potential market clearly has the scope to result in "big wins" for those successful in this field.  Examples include (butare not limited to) Calico (a sister company of Google) and Human Longevity Inc.

      

 

Breakthroughs   

 

In general terms, the more significant breakthroughs are covered by development of drugs into successful anti-ageing treatments, as demonstrated by (stage III) clinical trials.  This includes the modification and development of existing candidate drugs that are considered within the paper as follows:

 

1. The modification and development of a Rapamycin based product into a successful anti-ageing treatment.

 

2.  The modification and development of a Resveratrol based product into a successful anti-ageing treatment.

 

3. The modification and development of a DHEA based product into a successful anti-ageing treatment.

 

Clinical trials

 

Furthermore, the Working Party is aware of another candidate drug, metformin.  This was initially considered for the paper but excluded.  Metformin is already in wide use as a FDA approved treatment for type 2 diabetes. 

 

It is included here for a number of reasons:

 

  • Most importantly, metformin is now undergoing clinical trials to determine what anti-ageing properties it may have, using participants aged over 60.  

  • This study was launched in February 2015.  The overall process that governs the introduction of new medicine is briefly described here.   

  • Metformin has already been demonstrated to increase longevity substantially in both rodent and nematode models.

  • Notably, in the United Kingdom Prospective Diabetes Study (UKPDS), metformin, compared with other anti-diabetes drugs, demonstrated a decreased risk of cardiovascular disease.

  • A number of studies have shown an association of metformin use with a decreased risk of cancer, as well as decreased cancer mortality, such as this one.

  • Metformin has an exteremely wide reach insofar that it is now believed to be the most widely prescribed antidiabetic drug in the world; in the United States alone, more than 48 million prescriptions were filled in 2010. 

 

The Working Party intends to monitor the outcome of these trials posted here and provide updates. 

 

Sources:

 

The main source for formulation of this catalyst is the paper "What is ageing? Can we delay it?" with other sources earmarked by the relveant underlying weblinks or references.

 

The working Party would like to thank Joseph Lu for his contribution to the formulation of this catalyst.    

 

 

 

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