August 11, 2009
Better To Treat Aging Than Individual Diseases

UC Irvine cell biologist Doug Wallace argues that we can not afford to treat the growing population of old folks by treating individual disease and that we should instead treat underlying causes as a cheaper and more effective alternative.

“There will never be enough money for the federal government to pay for the demands of health care, because of chronic age-related diseases,” said Doug Wallace, a cell biologist at the University of California, Irvine.

Wallace's argument overlaps a great deal with a similar argumeny by biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey that we should develop rejuvenation therapies. Aubrey believes that we can develop technologies to make the body younger and that by doing so we will drastically cut the incidence of all the diseases associated with old age. I agree.

Wallace researchers mitochondria. The mitochondria break down sugars to extract energy to run cells. Some researchers believe accumulated damage in mitochondrial DNA causes mitochondria to malfunction and aging cells to run low on energy. This low energy condition might cause many of the diseases of old age.

“There might be a totally different way of treating disease, in which you’re treating the body as a system,” said Wallace. “The idea is that you could have a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease that would also be good for cardiac disease, and that’s exactly what we find with mitochondrial medicine.”

We do not yet have the biotechnologies we need to reverse aging. However, Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS) provide a framework for what we need to develop.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 August 11 12:27 AM  Aging Debate

kurt9 said at August 11, 2009 8:48 AM:

It has been a no-brainer to me since the late 80's that it would be more cost effective to treat aging itself rather than the so-called "age related" diseases. Go to any hospital or clinic. Who do you see there? Almost always you see old people. What does that tell you? That aging is either the cause or the escalation factor in whatever conditions these people have. You don't see young people in these places except if they were in a car accident or a shooting. You see parents with kids but you do not see young to middle-age adults.

I think Aubrey is right in calling what he calls a "pro-aging" trance. My lying eyes tell me that aging is the real medical problem because I see mostly old people in any medical setting, Yet, the medical industry, the politico's, and everyone else in "the system" keep saying that curing aging is bad, aging is natural, society is designed for people to age, etc. etc. etc. So, am I to believe the evidence of my sense, or the rhetoric of those who tell me that my eyes are lying to me?

Gee, what do you think?

jk12 said at August 11, 2009 11:10 AM:

"What does that tell you?"
-In ANY hospital or clinic? It tells me you may live in a community with a lot more old people living in it. We live in an aging society, so it follows that a higher percentage of people you see would be older. You're citing a anecdotal correlation. It is also possible that young to middle-age adults don't pay as much attention to their bodies.

I guess to me the pro-aging trance thing is a straw man argument. No one WANTS to grow old and lose function. The question is to what ends does curing aging lead us to? Is it an end that is desirable?

Mthson said at August 11, 2009 2:18 PM:

Most people are of course reasonable, but many do specifically believe curing aging would be wrong ("unnatural" etc), so it doesn't seem like much of a stretch to say they're pro-aging. They do prefer "to grow old and lose function," because the alternative would be something "unnatural." However, they do seem as unhappy as the rest of us when their loved ones die of curable diseases.

In theory, the amount we should be willing to pay for a cure to aging should approach 100% of our assets... because death nullifies the value of our assets and ends our ability to produce assets in the future.

I think for many people, they should take that cause into account in their choice of career path. For me, it's a big motivator.

Nick G said at August 11, 2009 2:37 PM:

I don't think anyone is really "pro-death".

I think most people find the idea of an arbitrary end-of-life so painful that they find rationalizations to justify the existence of death. These include "death makes life more meaningful", clearing space for the young, and an after-life.

I think most of those will find it too painful to make the leap to a belief in human longevity until it's possibility has been convincingly demonstrated, perhaps with short-lived animals like mice.

James Bowery said at August 11, 2009 11:04 PM:

The majority of medical money is made in terminal care.

kurt9 said at August 12, 2009 8:54 AM:

The majority of medical money is made in terminal care.

Duh. And what causes the need for terminal care? The aging process, silly. I told you guys that there is a "pro-aging" trance in the medical system and the larger culture, but some of you didn't believe me. Well, here it is.

The question is to what ends does curing aging lead us to? Is it an end that is desirable?

Are you serious? What the f**k does this matter? As long as you have youthful functionality, you can go out do whatever you want. You make your own end. Of course its going to be desirable because your making your own end as your own choice.

Nick G said at August 12, 2009 10:18 AM:


Drug companies are terrified of drugs that would cure *everything* at once.

Nick G said at August 12, 2009 10:23 AM:

So, I think the average person is just afraid to believe in serious life extension, but...the medical establishment has a serious conflict of interest. The biggest advances won't come from Big Pharma, and will move slowly into the conventional medical establishment. That's why serious advances will be used by self-educated consumers, like those who read this blog.

Heck, the FDA has already said that it won't consider anti-aging claims for new drug applications...

kurt9 said at August 12, 2009 11:46 AM:

Nick G,

I agree. Effective anti-aging therapies are not likely to come out of the existing medical establishment. They will come from people working outside the establishment. Since the FDA does not recognize aging as a medical condition, these new therapies will be marketed as supplements or be made available internationally. meaning that Americans will have to travel in order to partake of them. I think by this time that there will be considerable political pressure on the FDA to recognize aging as a treatable medical condition.

Someone here said earlier that the "pro-aging" trance is a red herring. Red herring my ass! The current FDA stance on aging is an obvious example of the pro-aging trance.

Nick G said at August 12, 2009 1:58 PM:


I agree. That said, there are a few rays of hope for getting anti-aging therapies through the medical establishment. One is that anti-aging therapies can be presented as narrow treatments for recognized ailments. For instance, there was an interesting company developing anti-glycation treatment, that used hypertension as a target. Similarly, synthetic forms of resveratrol will be marketed for specific ailments.

Another is that there are pressures on Big Pharma, such as competition and the desperate need to fill their drug pipeline in the short term, that may short-circuit the conservative culture.

We can hope...

Eric Johnson said at August 12, 2009 7:03 PM:

Bah. Any serious medical advance at all is damn hard to make. I don't feel that medicine has advanced all that much since the 60s. The most impressive thing to come along was HIV treatment, but it's hard to call that an advance since HIV didn't used to exist.

Randall Parker said at August 12, 2009 7:21 PM:

jk12, you say:

No one WANTS to grow old and lose function. The question is to what ends does curing aging lead us to? Is it an end that is desirable?

It is certainly desirable to not grow old and to not lose function.

So what are you worried about, external costs such as population growth?

I got an idea to propose: The people who are already here should have more of a right to life than new babies that some people want to create. I shouldn't be forced to die so that someone else can get the pleasure of motherhood or fatherhood.

Nick G said at August 12, 2009 11:54 PM:


that makes sense, but that's a very painful conflict to fight.

OTOH, I'm told that 50% of children are unplanned. Shouldn't we try to make sure those people have contraception first? It would be a win-win.

I think the first big, important fight is with those who would like to deny contraception and family planning to those who need it.

James Bowery said at August 13, 2009 8:15 AM:

My point in bringing up the incentives operating on the medical industry is to clarify what people should be thinking about in the anti-aging movement. If you don't deal with the incentives, you're in a head to head fight against human nature.

Here's a simple proposal:

A citizen's dividend paid equally to everyone as replacement for all government programs.

All of a sudden, the voters are incentivised to maximize the viability of the tax base and that includes human capital.

The Republicans could adopt this as a single plank platform and sweep every election from here on while destroying the political infrastructure of the Democratic party.

Now, the ONLY question remains for the anti-aging crowd:

Why won't the Republicans do this?

Tj Green said at August 14, 2009 4:01 PM:

These rejuvenation therapies would require a month in hospital every ten years so it would be wealth creating.

Randall Parker said at August 15, 2009 2:03 PM:


Any therapies that require a month in hospital sound too traumatic. I want gene therapies and cell therapies I can get in a clinic.

Sure, some surgeries will be needed to replace whole organs. But transplant surgeries do not require lengthy convalescence do they?

dave2 said at September 25, 2010 3:44 PM:

Transhumanists are freaks

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