Life Extension Treatments: New Frontiers

February 28, 2018

Photo by Fabrizio Verrecchia on Unsplash

 

Life extension is a hot trend of the last years, and it is getting hotter by the minute. Not that it wasn’t of great interest throughout history, but the contemporary era of technological and scientific breakthroughs instills great hope that current research will be more successful than the search for the philosopher’s stone. There are vast amounts of money being funneled into life extension research by pharmaceutical giants along with Silicon Valley giants, and everyone, from small independent researchers to the industrial titans is eager to get on this train.

There are already whole communities of bio hackers and life extension enthusiasts who are sharing information about possible treatments that are already available, lifestyle adjustments to be made in order to prolong life and going as far as implanting various devices into their bodies for the purpose of monitoring or altering certain parameters, also related to life extension.

Current trends and discoveries

What are the most common currently available options, even if they have not earned official approval from the state? To begin with, there are certified drugs used for treating various conditions, whose major side effect is claimed to be prolongation of life – directly or indirectly. The one that’s making headlines now is metformin, commonly used for keeping blood sugar down in patients with type 2 diabetes. Besides keeping sugar down, clinical trials have shown metformin to have some other effects associated with extension of the life span, such as lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Other promising candidates include the immune suppressant rapamycin, which has already been found to increase the lifespan of mice by ≈14% and the anti-cancer drug everolimus, which is responsible for partial reversal of immune system deterioration, which is, in turn, largely responsible for the susceptibility to disease in the old age. Rapamycin does, however, have a potential effect of provoking diabetes, so there’s a long way to go before doctors begin suggesting taking it off-label. Low-dose aspirin and statins, which have been proven to have anti-inflammatory effects, are probably one of the better-known agents of promoting longevity. These are all crucial, because merely increasing the lifespan is not the sufficient answer to the issue of aging, rather, it is increasing the so-called ‘health span’, the time during which a healthy lifestyle can be maintained.

Beyond drugs, there are numerous research projects that study approaches to promoting longevity. Stem cell mining in the placenta for treating cancer as well as cell therapy to promote longevity is undertaken by the Celularity startup, among others. Gene editing is another very popular subject of research, some of which is in the human trial stage in certain countries, such as China, and some, such as a gene-altering leukemia treatment, already approved by the FDA in the US. Young blood transfusions sound somewhat unnerving, but are perfectly legal in the US. Strict calorie restriction is the simplest method with no price tag and proven efficiency.

Inequality and ethical issues

Clearly, humanity is at the verge of a major breakthrough in longevity research, and when it occurs, there will be a great number of ethical issues associated with it. The lifespan differences is already incredible, standing at a whopping 15 years even between London boroughs or US counties, and is based directly on the social status and income level of the populations in question. This gap will increase even further when the expensive and exclusive hi-tech treatments become available. The devastating consequences of an apparently positive development, namely, postponing death for a significant period of time, may be too much for the society to deal with as the inequality between the haves and the have nots is already astonishing.

  • On one hand, another major crevice splitting our societies is certainly unnecessary and poses a major ethical problem. This has even led certain bioethicists to propose a ban of life-prolonging treatments due to the utter inequality in their availability.
  • On the other hand, the variability in access to healthcare is already substantial, and affects the life span in a very negative way. Perhaps attempting to provide different populations with a similar level of healthcare is in many ways a more prominent and pressing issue than trying to figure out how to go about life-prolonging treatments and their potential availability. Prohibiting such treatments and medications seems equally unfair, moreover, it would stall progress, and further delay the time when such treatments may become available widely.
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