March 9, 2006

Olshansky wants you live an astounding 7 years longer!

Direct from the 'lack of vision' department comes S. Jay Olshanksky's latest offering to the great life extension debate. In collaboration with Daniel Perry, Richard A. Miller and Robert N. Butler, Olshansky has published a piece for The Scientist in which he comes out in favour of life extending interventions.

But typical of Olshansky, his limited vision for the potentials of life extension is at the point of laughability. He once told me that it is his expectation to see life expectancy decrease this century rather than increase, citing such things as the spread of diseases.

Olshansky, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois, and go-to boy for the press when they need an anti-life extension sound-bite, argues that it is in society's best interest to work at alleviating the effects of aging. To this end he suggests that US congress invest $3 billion annually to life extension with the hopes of prolonging lives by a factor of -- drum roll please -- an astounding 7 years.

Yep, 7 years.

In the words of the article’s authors, "What we have in mind is not the unrealistic pursuit of dramatic increases in life expectancy, let alone the kind of biological immortality best left to science fiction novels. Rather, we envision a goal that is realistically achievable: a modest deceleration in the rate of aging sufficient to delay all aging-related diseases and disorders by about seven years."

This target was chosen, say the authors, because the risk of death and most other negative attributes of aging tends to rise exponentially throughout the adult lifespan with a doubling time of approximately seven years. "Such a delay would yield health and longevity benefits greater than what would be achieved with the elimination of cancer or heart disease," they write, "And we believe it can be achieved for generations now alive."

Thankfully, Olshansky and the other authors are in agreement that life extension is possible. "The belief that aging is an immutable process, programmed by evolution, is now known to be wrong," they write, "In recent decades, our knowledge of how, why, and when aging processes take place has progressed so much that many scientists now believe that this line of research, if sufficiently promoted, could benefit people alive today."

In terms of benefits, they consider the aging baby boomers and hope that life extension will help alleviate the fiscal and social pressures of having a large elderly population. And simply put, health and longevity create wealth.

Olshansky et al are clearly trying to appear as reasonable and mainstream as possible to curry favour with US congress. It's conceivable that they may have more daring personal predictions for life extension, some of which may even come in line with biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey who is working to eliminate aging altogether (but that's just speculation on my part).

Yet, as the authors of this article note, life extension is real and we need to work collectively to help bring it about in the most expedient manner possible.

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Anonymous said...

Wow. Have you never taken statistics? The $3B is to increase the *AVERAGE* life expectancy by 7 years. That means that *EVERYONE* will need to live longer in order to improve that number. Improving the average life expectancy 7 years would be a really huge feat, as you would need to improve the overall health of everyone, not just someone working hard at living as long as possible. That means homeless people, enormously obese shut-ins, etc etc etc. It would likely require some impressive improvements to medical care.

And yes, I know that he doesn't specifically say that, but the man is a biostatistician. He doesn't think in individual cases, he thinks in distributions.

I think if he manages to pull off half that number, it will be one of the biggest bumps in life expectancy yet since we discovered antibiotics.

George said...

Your point is well taken, but considering that life expectancy increased 40 years from 1900 to 2000, and considering that accelerating change will also apply to biotechnology, 7 years still appears silly to me.