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Medicine Earth Science Technology

Aging Process May Be Reversable, Scientists Claim (theguardian.com) 253

New submitter TheNinjaCoder writes: A new type of gene therapy is showing promise in reversing the aging process. The scientists are not claiming that aging can be eliminated, but say that in the foreseeable future treatments designed to slow the process could increase life expectancy. The Guardian explains the scientists' experiment in its report: "The rejuvenating treatment given to the mice was based on a technique that has previously been used to 'rewind' adult cells, such as skin cells, back into powerful stem cells, very similar to those seen in embryos. These so-called induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells have the ability to multiply and turn into any cell type in the body and are already being tested in trials designed to provide 'spare parts' for patients. The treatment involved intermittently switching on the same four genes that are used to turn skin cells into iPS cells. The mice were genetically engineered in such a way that the four genes could be artificially switched on when the mice were exposed to a chemical in their drinking water. The scientists tested the treatment in mice with a genetic disorder, called progeria, which is linked to accelerated aging, DNA damage, organ dysfunction and dramatically shortened lifespan. After six weeks of treatment, the mice looked visibly younger, skin and muscle tone improved and they lived 30% longer. When the same genes were targeted in cells, DNA damage was reduced and the function of the cellular batteries, called the mitochondria, improved. Crucially, the mice did not have an increased cancer risk, suggesting that the treatment had successfully rewound cells without turning them all the way back into stem cells, which can proliferate uncontrollably in the body." The study has been published in the journal Cell.
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Aging Process May Be Reversable, Scientists Claim

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  • Things to solve (Score:5, Insightful)

    by NotInHere ( 3654617 ) on Thursday December 15, 2016 @11:35PM (#53495097)

    Congratulations! But even if you have the cure for aging you'll have to solve some (quite big) problems:

    * The danger of overpopulation. If old people don't die, and young people keep making babies, our planet will become overcrowded soon. Which system should be implemented? A policy where you need permit by the government to have babies? Will we make a gigantic ponzi scheme where we put those extra humans on mars, then on other plantes, colonizing the galaxy? What when the whole galaxy is colonized? Intergalactic travel outside of our local group is quite hard, as expansion of space will make those galaxies leave us faster than light before we can get to them.

    * The danger of cancer. Often when rejuveniating cells you put them in a mode where they like to multiply. You artificially increase the likelihood for cancer with this to an extent of almost certainity.

    • Generation ships, probably.

      Take a hundred thousand people, build a spaceship big enough to house them (with room to grow) find some way to synthesize food and water (soylent green, anyone?) and point them off into the stars.

      Rinse and repeat

      The other option would be terraforming, but that seems a bit far fetched, doesn't it?

      • by NotInHere ( 3654617 ) on Friday December 16, 2016 @12:49AM (#53495403)

        You people don't seem to understand how exponential growth works: you will always get to a limit. Whether its the limits of a planet or the limits of a galaxy, or some other limit isn't really relevant.

        You "point them off into the stars" method has a couple of issues: first, its expensive resource wise to build and maintain those ships. Space colonisation is much easier doable with spaceships filled with fertilized human eggs, with actual infrastructure to breed and raise those humans once the destination is reached. Second, you need something to target those ships to. Either you target them into nothingness, meaning the people inside the spaceship is almost certain to die (who wants to go on your spaceships then?), or you target them at actual promising locations. But even there it might turn out to be hostile to higher life.

        • by thinkwaitfast ( 4150389 ) on Friday December 16, 2016 @01:34AM (#53495531)
          You get to the limit with linear growth also.
        • by limaxray ( 1292094 ) on Friday December 16, 2016 @09:25AM (#53496565)
          Nonsense. You're still thinking with a 20th century mind. We're not that far off from being able to launch autonomous drones into space to harvest the asteroid belt and construct a dyson swarm - it's now more of an engineering challenge than a science challenge. As long as you get your materials outside the gravity well of a planet like Earth, constructing massive space based living platforms would be relatively trivial. No need to travel anywhere to be able to reach a carrying capacity many times that of Earth. And assuming we're never able to reach speeds greater than a fraction of the speed of light, we can still hop from star system to star system until we have engulfed every star in the galaxy. Even if we reproduced at premodern rates, we'd be more limited by the age of the galaxy than any carrying capacity we couldn't engineer around. But, as the standard of living increases and people find other sources of enjoyment in life, the rate of reproduction has dropped below 2 per couple. The galaxy is just so massive and our capabilities are so limitless that over population will never be a wide spread problem, as has been demonstrated time and time again.
      • If you want to keep the population of the Earth steady, then you need to send off a hundred thousand people every day. Where do you want the resource for commissioning a generation ship (or even orbital settlement) every year to come from? And do you expect that the people in the ships will stop breeding?
    • The death rate isn't all it takes to keep human population in check. Since 1966 the number of births has outpaced the number of deaths by a wide margin.

      Immortality treatments will be expensive at first (slow rollout to 1% of the 1%), whatever adjustments are necessary for a world of immortals are already mostly necessary to keep the population 20B.

      • Hm, around 1995/1997 there where probably about 10 companies on the internet announcing break throughs in life extension "technologies".

        Now you don't even find them with google anymore.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The rule is: if you have a child, your anti aging treatments stop
        penalty for breaking rule: death

    • Re:Things to solve (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Wycliffe ( 116160 ) on Friday December 16, 2016 @02:17AM (#53495627) Homepage

      Congratulations! But even if you have the cure for aging you'll have to solve some (quite big) problems:

      * The danger of overpopulation. If old people don't die, and young people keep making babies, our planet will become overcrowded soon. Which system should be implemented? A policy where you need permit by the government to have babies? Will we make a gigantic ponzi scheme where we put those extra humans on mars, then on other plantes, colonizing the galaxy? What when the whole galaxy is colonized? Intergalactic travel outside of our local group is quite hard, as expansion of space will make those galaxies leave us faster than light before we can get to them.

      * The danger of cancer. Often when rejuveniating cells you put them in a mode where they like to multiply. You artificially increase the likelihood for cancer with this to an extent of almost certainity.

      The summary specifically mentions that they found no increased chance of cancer and besides cancer and overpopulation are not reasons not to pursue it. If you could keep someone healthy to 150 and then just took them out in the streets and shot them that would be preferable to what we have now which is where a 100 year old is frail and decrepit.

      There are other problems too that need to be dealt with. Society changes because the older generation dies out. If you think the top .01 percent of the rich are bad now, imagine how much worse it would get if they never died and could continue to amass wealth and power indefinitely.

      • ... imagine how much worse it would get if they never died and could continue to amass wealth and power indefinitely.

        Fortunately, the same law applies. There is always a limit to growth, and if history shows us anything, it is that the limit is quite often a lot closer than we like to imagine.

        • There is always a limit to growth, and if history shows us anything, it is that the limit is quite often a lot closer than we like to imagine.

          What history shows us that? Certainly not the history of human population.

      • If you could keep someone healthy to 150 and then just took them out in the streets and shot them that would be preferable to what we have now...

        Try convincing that to the 150 year old guy. "OK, Charlie. We're just gonna tie you to a stake and put a bullet through your head. A small one, just to open it up a little bit. Maybe put some fire ants in there. Alright?"

        • by khallow ( 566160 )

          Try convincing that to the 150 year old guy.

          You mean the guy who already decided more than 50 years ago?

        • If you could keep someone healthy to 150 and then just took them out in the streets and shot them that would be preferable to what we have now...

          Try convincing that to the 150 year old guy. "OK, Charlie. We're just gonna tie you to a stake and put a bullet through your head. A small one, just to open it up a little bit. Maybe put some fire ants in there. Alright?"

          I wasn't saying that was a good solution. I was just saying I would prefer it to what we have now. Besides, it doesn't really matter. If you eliminate aging, the average life expectancy would jump from about 80 years to about 250 years even if everyone had the same probability of dying each year as a 25 year old does. So just because a person doesn't age doesn't mean they are going to live forever unless we also greatly decrease the odds of dying from random accidents.

    • by ranton ( 36917 )

      The danger of overpopulation.

      Easily solved. Just charge $25k/person/year. And wallah, negligible increased overpopulation.

      • Re:Things to solve (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Coisiche ( 2000870 ) on Friday December 16, 2016 @06:23AM (#53496087)

        I think they might set the bar a little higher because that's probably in the grasp of hundreds of millions around the world. It'll definitely cost more and be carefully controlled.

        And no matter how much it costs you know who will always be able to afford it? Politicians.

        In fact I wouldn't be surprised if governments establish a rule that elected members, or non-elected like UK House of Lords, get rejuvenation therapy during their tenure. This would establish an even greater desire to maintain office, which would lead to blatant gerrymandering, changes to election rules and restrictions on voting rights.

        Sometimes something that looks like a good idea just doesn't turn out that way.

      • And wallah, negligible increased overpopulation.

        Voila.

        Good rule of thumb: if you can't spell a word, you should avoid trying to use it in writing - it makes you look like someone trying to qualify for the B-Ark....

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by helpfulcorn ( 668048 )

      * The danger of overpopulation. If old people don't die, and young people keep making babies, our planet will become overcrowded soon. Which system should be implemented? A policy where you need permit by the government to have babies? Will we make a gigantic ponzi scheme where we put those extra humans on mars, then on other plantes, colonizing the galaxy? What when the whole galaxy is colonized? Intergalactic travel outside of our local group is quite hard, as expansion of space will make those galaxies leave us faster than light before we can get to them.

      If overpopulation is really the biggest issue, why don't we just kill a lot of people? This isn't flamebait, I'm serious. If it truly is the worst possible problem, then let's just handle it, have a lottery or something.

      I hear this all the time and it's so stupid. Nobody complains about overpopulation thanks to vaccines, cleaner water, cleaner/better food, etc, but start talking about keeping people from getting old suddenly it's a big deal. Do you think people in horrific places in the third world say "wel

    • If old people don't die, and young people keep making babies,

      People in developed countries generally don't aspire to have as many children as they can before their biological clock runs out. They decide they want to have X children, for some fixed X, and stop after that. If people live longer, it probably means they'll have the same number of children, but over a longer time, which would reduce population growth. They might even put it off indefinitely (since their biological clock isn't ticking anymore) which would reduce it even more.

    • by khallow ( 566160 )

      * The danger of overpopulation. If old people don't die, and young people keep making babies, our planet will become overcrowded soon. Which system should be implemented? A policy where you need permit by the government to have babies? Will we make a gigantic ponzi scheme where we put those extra humans on mars, then on other plantes, colonizing the galaxy? What when the whole galaxy is colonized? Intergalactic travel outside of our local group is quite hard, as expansion of space will make those galaxies leave us faster than light before we can get to them.

      * The danger of cancer. Often when rejuveniating cells you put them in a mode where they like to multiply. You artificially increase the likelihood for cancer with this to an extent of almost certainity.

      I guess we'll have to solve those. Given that curing aging is a much harder problem and we've already solved overpopulation in the developed world, I'm not seeing much of a downside there.

    • Forget those. Those are minor issues.

      The real issue of people living longer is that the old crotchety ignorant louts get to live longer too. Change only happens when old people step/fall/are pushed aside to make room for the younger generation who tend to be more accepting of new ideas and methods. By leaving those people around longer they will slow down and collapse progress on bigotry, equality, and in general caring for others that allows civilized society to function.

      Personally if you live to 75 I sa

    • "License to Live"

      You can "apply" for a "License to Live" and it grants you, government-supported, up to an extra 100 years of healthy life extension, which includes government supported vasectomy or sterilization. Only people who have had no more than 2 kids are eligible to receive such a license. People who have only had o or 1 child can get up to 150 years of govt-supported life extension.

      Caveats:

      If you become unhealthy (heart disease, cirrhosis, cancer, etc) then you are only allowed to continue receivin

  • Progeria mice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by _Sharp'r_ ( 649297 ) <sharper@booksun[ ... m ['der' in gap]> on Thursday December 15, 2016 @11:39PM (#53495115) Homepage Journal

    The scientists quoted say 10 years away from any sort of human clinical application. One interesting thing to note is that these are progeria mice, who would normally age very rapidly from their condition. So it's more like making them age more normal, not extending their lifespan abnormally. Will be interesting to see if they can use this technique to actual reverse normal aging and extend a normal lifespan, not just one which was previously going to be cut very short.

    • Well, in 10 years we'll all be old and ugly, so does the ageing-reverse process restore beauty as well?
    • 10 years assumes continued research and progress over that period. That requires funds. That requires a government that believes in science. That's not gonna happen in the US. 'Murica is in the final throws of civilization. We have become an idiocracy. Pay attention, rest-of-the-world, this is what failure looks like...

  • by flatulus ( 260854 ) on Thursday December 15, 2016 @11:41PM (#53495125)
    But I'm too old to be sure I really understand this. Wish I could still think like a young man...
  • Rather low bar (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Empiric ( 675968 ) on Thursday December 15, 2016 @11:41PM (#53495127)

    Genetic disorder mitigated by genetic manipulation. Yes?

    Instead of progeria-afflicted mice, why not attempt the technique on otherwise healthy mice? If that can be made to result in a 30% lifespan extension, that would be notable.

    • Re:Rather low bar (Score:5, Informative)

      by starless ( 60879 ) on Friday December 16, 2016 @01:07AM (#53495465)

      Genetic disorder mitigated by genetic manipulation. Yes?

      Instead of progeria-afflicted mice, why not attempt the technique on otherwise healthy mice? If that can be made to result in a 30% lifespan extension, that would be notable.

      "The team also saw improved organ health in normal mice but, because the mice are still living, could not yet say if longevity was extended."

      http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12... [nytimes.com]

      • by robi5 ( 1261542 )

        > "The team also saw improved organ health in normal mice but, because the mice are still living, could not yet say if longevity was extended."

        Well, more accurately, perhaps the experiment hasn't been running long enough to even see if extended longevity kicked in. The animals don't actually need to die for the experiment to demonstrate life extension. In fact, the longer the animals are alive, the better :-)

        Slightly related I'm always appalled at published life expectancy numbers. The only solid measure

        • I'd bet whoever makes life insurance actuarial tables knows how to take all of that into account.
        • by starless ( 60879 )

          Well, more accurately, perhaps the experiment hasn't been running long enough to even see if extended longevity kicked in. The animals don't actually need to die for the experiment to demonstrate life extension.)

          To quantify longevity median lifetime is often used, so to get that value you need half of your mice to die. But of course you can still get a lower bound on it before then.

          I'm wondering if there are models and estimates for life expectancy in a forward-looking way, perhaps with alternative scenarios for future medical advances.

          "The Lee–Carter model is a numerical algorithm used in mortality forecasting and life expectancy forecasting. The input to the model is a matrix of age specific mortality rates ordered monotonically by time, usually with ages in columns and years in rows. The output is another forecasted matrix of mortality rates."
          https://en.wikip [wikipedia.org]

  • by belthize ( 990217 ) on Friday December 16, 2016 @01:20AM (#53495491)

    Pick a number pretty much any number, double it, somebody will pay that.

    There won't be an overpopulation problem because only .001% of the population will be able to afford it.

    What there will be is huge black market that primarily consists of fake treatments that will kill you, probably. If the odds are a million to one that you get to reset to some lower age or die of old age people will roll the dice.

    • Pick a number pretty much any number, double it, somebody will pay that.

      There won't be an overpopulation problem because only .001% of the population will be able to afford it.

      Well, if the technique these scientists used is how it's done, the treatment won't be particularly expensive. It'll have to be done by genetic engineering of embryos, or even germ cells (eggs or sperm). The genetic modification process isn't that expensive, but the modified embryo will have to be implanted, etc., so the process will look almost exactly like in vitro fertilization, plus a little. That would put it easily within the reach of the middle class in wealthy countries, and assuming everyone who cou

    • Considering that the treatment in itself basically costs nothing, it will be hard work to keep the price up so high that only the number you mention can afford it.

  • From B. Brecht's "Stories about Herr Keuner" (translation is mine):

    A man, who hadn't seen Mr Keuner for a long time, greeted him with the words: "You haven't changed at all." "Oh!", said Mr Keuner, and went pale.

  • by ruir ( 2709173 ) on Friday December 16, 2016 @07:27AM (#53496219)
    There is little interesting in reversing the process of aging after the damage is done to bones and tissues. On the other hand, you want to slow it down after your late 20s.
    Obviously, if ever there is a public technology, they would be much more interested in spinning it down to older people that has more disposable income, however ultimately, it would be the ultra rich taking more advantage of it for a younger age.
  • Cool. Now lets see if we can solve that pesky cancer problem.
  • - for this to go horribly wrong in an entertaining science fiction kind of way. "We left him in too long and he reverted to a mass of stem cells."
  • How will this affect those "lifetime" warranties?
    How old would you need to be to retire?...any pension not adjusted for inflation would end up being worthless over time.
    How old would you need to be to collect Social Security? There would have to be adjustments made.
    Could I still get the senior discounts at age 60?
    Would this reverse my baldness?
    Could I get it up again w/o Viagra?

    • If you're worried about living expenses (retirement, Social security, senior discounts), you're not in the economic bracket to afford the treatment.
      • If this is something that could be taken as a pill without the need of medical staff to administer to you on a regular basis then I don't think this will be for the wealthy only (if it doesn't require permanently scarce resources).

        This would have broad appeal across a wide range of people. R&D costs spread across the whole of humanity means the pill should be fairly inexpensive, especially when you consider economies of scale. (plus politics will make this important to get to the people).

  • This treatment can help rejuvenate you in the sense that it can make you look and feel younger but it doesn't "reverse the aging process". In order to do that, it would require our telomeres to recover length to allow more cell division. It is the telomeres that cause us to ultimately die because when the cells can no long divide things break down, you get sick and you die. I didn't see anything in the article that described what it does to affect the true aging process. At best, this can raise the qual
    • There are other causes of aging. One is the accumulation of unremovable waste products. Another is the increased proportion of cells that no longer function properly. Yet another is decreased red blood cell production.
    • Pluripotent stem cells don't suffer from telomere loss, so the first generations you should be fine.
      Also we know which enzymes are needed to fix telomeres.

  • I haven't done a ton of research, however progeria aging seems a pretty logical statement. Progeria may look like accelerated aging, it may even have shared cursors as aging. However it is not aging nor accelerated aging. Wiki uses the word "resembles" and that usage is probably very purposeful. So maybe their might be some take aways learned eventually that may help in corresponding aging process, but maybe (probably) not.

    What this research does "resemble" is work towards treatment of an incredible rare d

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