From aging to younging

Dear Futurists,

Ahead of our webinar later today (Saturday) about “Younging” (as opposed to “Aging”), I’d like to share some thoughts and news about projects that may interest you.

1.) Beyond the hallmarks of aging

One of the great steps forward of recent decades has been a paradigmatic reversal in thinking about diseases and aging.

Previously, when people thought about factors that caused a decline in health, they rarely paid much direct attention to aging. Instead, they looked at factors such as germs, poor diet, toxins from the environment, accidents, lack of exercise, insufficient sleep, psychic and social stress, and so on. As for aging: that was seen as a fact of nature, beyond any useful control.

However, there’s increasing recognition, nowadays, in the words of Professor of Medicine and Genetics Nir Barzilai, that “aging is the ‘mother’ of most diseases”. If we wish to reduce the devastation caused by diseases to both individuals and society as a whole, we should therefore put more attention onto studying aging.

Decade by decade, from the late 1980s onward, more and more researchers have focused on characterising the biological mechanisms underlying aging, and on identifying interventions to control or even reverse these changes.

This research has led to lists of what are called “hallmarks of aging” – characteristics with three properties:

  1. They increase with age
  2. Accelerating a hallmark’s progress accelerates aging
  3. Reducing the hallmark decreases aging.

Different researchers analyse the set of potential hallmarks in different ways. As an example, here’s the analysis offered by Andrew Steele in his recent book Ageless: The new science of getting older without getting old:

  1. DNA damage and mutations
  2. Trimmed telomeres
  3. Protein problems: autophagy, amyloids and adducts
  4. Epigenetic alterations
  5. Accumulation of senescent cells
  6. Malfunctioning mitochondria
  7. Signal failure
  8. Changes in the microbiome
  9. Cellular exhaustion
  10. Malfunction of the immune system

What makes these analyses useful is the potential approaches that researchers can identify to dealing with each sort of hallmark. This includes approaches to remove, replace, repair, or reprogram the types of biological damage associated with each hallmark.

In principle, this suggests that at least ten different types of intervention will be needed – one for each of the different hallmarks listed.

But what if there’s another level of analysis, in which the different hallmarks of aging cease to appear as isolated, separate biological phenomenon, but have a shared underlying mechanism?

What if the paradigm shift from “diseases first” to “hallmarks of aging first” is incomplete, and awaits a further step?

It’s a bold hypothesis, but independent longevity researchers Vince Giuliano and Steve Buss have assembled considerable evidence in its favour.

Vince and Steve will be sharing their thinking in their joint presentation in the London Futurists webinar later today (20th November).

They’ll also be offering practical suggestions for how to harness mechanisms they describe as “younging”.

For more details of this event and to RSVP to take part, click here.

2.) Political policies in support of healthier longevity

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair – who won three general elections (1997, 2001, and 2005) – set up in 2016 the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change.

The Institute sets out its intended focus as follows:

From populist leadership to public protest, our current political landscape is marked by extremism, with ‘us’ and ‘them’ attitudes pervading debate on a global basis. Alongside this, we’re living in an unprecedented era of technological progression; one that offers renewed prosperity and connection, but which also presents challenges that threaten further division.

Our mission is to equip political leaders to build prosperous, open and inclusive societies. To do that, we need to tackle the issue of extremism, as well as promote the kind of politics that seeks to unite rather than divide. And we need to help those leaders master the revolution in technology, so that they can access its benefits and mitigate its risks.

Like most prominent politicians, Tony Blair as a controversial figure. But you don’t need to be a fan of everything he did as Labour Party Leader or as Prime Minister, to recognise that his Institute is producing a range of useful reports into the area of harnessing technological change for the benefit of society as a whole.

Consider their report “Live Longer or Healthier? The Science That Is Making Both Possible” issued earlier this month.

That report starts as follows:

The technological leaps that have shaped our modern health-care systems are astonishing. From antibiotics to stem-cell therapies, our ingenuity and determination to live longer and better lives have dramatically changed human experience over the past century.

While the gradual decline of aging has been seen as inevitable in the past, recent scientific advances suggest that it doesn’t have to be this way.

Age is one of the biggest risk factors in hospitalisations or death caused by many of the chronic illnesses plaguing developed nations, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. Today, the majority of medical research tackles each of these age-related illnesses individually and in turn. Important breakthroughs often deliver an extra two or three years of healthy life, only for patients to then fall victim to yet another age-related disease.

Yet, what if we could instead focus on tackling aging itself?

By uncovering the underlying mechanisms of aging, we are on the cusp of being able to delay the onset of age-related conditions and confront the causes of degenerative diseases. In fact, by targeting the biology of aging, healthspans and lifespans have already been extended in numerous animal models, with some of the related drugs already in human use.

Timing is of the essence: major demographic shifts mean that the economic and health-care structures created in the 20th century will not be able to support future generations. The economic issues presented by aging populations are existential in scale and, arguably, second only to the pressing climate challenges we face.

Yet this risk also presents an opportunity. The prize for radically extending healthy lifespans is enormous, both economically and in terms of public health. This “longevity dividend” is potentially so significant that we must take immediate steps to accelerate efforts to address age-related diseases.

Tackling the root causes of aging offers great promise. This paper highlights some of the most exciting innovations in longevity and why this field will be a major source of innovation during this century. It sets out clear rationale for why policymakers must act now to seize this opportunity, as well as describing the most pressing action for governments globally. By delaying the onset of age-related diseases, we have the opportunity not only to create a more positive, grounded and equitable vision of an aging society, but to deliver healthier lives for each of us – a goal that’s surely worth pursuing.

The report goes on to provide a helpful introduction to the concept (see the previous news item) of “hallmarks of aging”:

What’s particularly noteworthy about the report is:

  • The set of policy goals it advocates
  • The set of practical measures it champions in support of these policy goals.

As an example, here’s their proposed “30 in 30” goal:

Policymakers need to think more realistically about the magnitude of the challenge that aging represents and more radically about finding solutions. To do this, governments must set ambitious, long-term targets in a similar vein to climate goals to drive progress. There is consensus among experts that we already have the knowledge and technologies to achieve a “30 in 30” target – in other words, to increase HLE [Healthy Life Expectancy] by 30 years (to approximately 95 in most advanced economies) by 2050, if the right policies and technologies are implemented. It is an ambitious but achievable long-term aim. Governments also need to set short-term targets so they can measure progress against, and be held accountable for, these longer-term goals.

Policy measures recommended in support of these goals include:

Significantly increase funding and explore innovative funding models for longevity research. In the UK, there are currently no accurate figures for the amount of public funding directed towards aging research per capita, per annum, although researchers estimate it can be measured in pence rather than pounds. By contrast, we spend around £2.80 per person on cancer research annually. Longevity research should be at the core of the UK’s life-sciences research funding and, as such, requires far greater levels of investment than estimates suggest is currently being spent.

Give the NHS first refusal on publicly funded longevity therapies. Government should ensure that novel therapies developed in publicly funded labs retain a public benefit when taken to market. Policymakers should explore novel ideas like a National Therapeutics Service to ensure the NHS has first refusal on any aging therapies that emerge through publicly funded longevity research in universities.

Model the fiscal and economic value of extending life and healthspans at national and regional levels. While the UK has begun to calculate the long-term fiscal risks associated with aging populations, it hasn’t publicly modelled the economic value of targeting aging to extend life and healthspans. Work by researchers from the London Business School, University of Oxford and Harvard Medical School, published in the journal Nature Aging, offers a model for how longevity-focused interventions could be quantified. HM Treasury should conduct equivalent modelling to assess the economic value at stake.

It’s encouraging to see such ideas (among many others) in a document published by a mainstream UK political think tank. Ten years ago, although such ideas were often discussed at London Futurists meetups at that time, it was scarcely conceivable that they would become adopted by elements of the political establishment.

There’s still lots of work to be done, to continue to raise public understanding of the remarkable implications of these ideas, but this is progress that should be savoured.

3.) Promoting Transhumanism on Social Media: best practice?

Healthy longevity is one of the themes that have long been championed by members of the transhumanist community. But it’s by no means the only theme advocated by transhumanism.

Thus, in a video I recently published for the Vital Syllabus project, “Introduction to Transhumanism”, I listed “superlongevity” alongside other transhumanist aspirations “superintelligence”, superhappiness”, superdemocracy”, and “superabundance”:

As you can see, my own style of video-making contrasts with that of Transhumanist UK media design supporter Martin Heyam Bielecki. Here’s a recent example of Martin’s work, “Welcome to the Party”:

Clearly, there is more than one approach to communicating about transhumanism.

But what advice is there, from one of the world’s most successful online transhumanist video bloggers, Greg Mustreader, about best practice in this kind of communication?

That’s the subject of the Virtual Enlightenment Salon being held by the U.S. Transhumanist this Sunday (21st November) from 1pm Pacific Time, namely 9pm UK time:

Here’s an excerpt from the description of that event:

On Sunday, November 21, 2021, the U.S. Transhumanist Party invites Greg Mustreader to discuss his thoughts on effective promotion of transhumanist ideas on social media.

Greg Mustreader is the most popular transhumanist blogger in Russia, with over 400,000 subscribers on his Russian channels (YouTube, Telegram, VK, Instagram). Now he is running blogs and podcasts in English for an international audience as well. He is passionate about rationality, transhumanism, biohacking, productivity, tech, and trends of development in society. He also curates content for his subscribers, recommending the best books and long reads.

I’m looking forward to watching and to picking up some good tips!

4.) H+Pedia update

I’ll close this newsletter with a brief update about H+Pedia.

Recall that the goal of H+Pedia is “accurate, accessible, non-sensational information about transhumanism, futurism, radical life extension and other emerging technologies, and their potential collective impact on humanity”. H+Pedia also sees itself as “an opportunity for unique collaborations across the transhumanist community”.

I’d like to publicly acknowledge and congratulate a number of members of the H+Pedia project for their recent valued contributions to the project: Bret Bernhoft, George Barahona, Dalton Murray, and Gennady Stolyarov.

  • Bret Bernhoft, H+Pedia username Devbret, has tidied numerous entries, improving readability, and fixing issues with spelling, formatting, layout, and syntax.
  • George Barahona, H+Pedia username George1989, has assisted with the translation of H+Pedia pages into Spanish, pioneering the adoption of the translation system that is being plugged into the project.
  • Dalton Murray has offered friendly assistance to newcomers to the H+Pedia community, has created some valuable new pages, and has raised some important ideas about the future of the project
  • Gennady Stolyarov has rescued material from Wikipedia articles on transhumanist and related topics, that Wikipedia editors had deleted (in arguably an overly narrow interpretation of Wikipedia rules); that material is now contained within related H+Pedia articles.

Many thanks to Bret, George, Dalton, Gennady, and everyone else who has helped move H+Pedia forward in recent months!

If anyone reading this might be interested to assist this team, don’t hesitate to get in touch, or take a look at the links on H+Pedia itself.

// David W. Wood
Chair, London Futurists

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