Books: Young forever? How the battle against old age could be won soon

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Ageless, Ageless

Andrew Steele Steele

Bloomsbury, 20 GBP

Neil Mackay’s Analysis

I felt pretty darn old when I completed this work by Andrew Steele for a book on how society is now on the verge of overcoming the scourge of aging. There are popular science books, and then there are science textbooks, and Ageless: on the textbook side of the divide is the Modern Science of Becoming Older Without Getting Old.

I don’t consider myself to be a science dunce, but it can be overwhelming for someone who doesn’t have a certain amount of scientific expertise. “Another place where clonal expansions are common is in HSCs – the stem cells responsible for blood cell formation. The most common driver mutation in HSCs is a gene called DNMT3A.”Another place where clonal expansions are common is in HSCs – the stem cells responsible for the formation of blood cells. A gene called DNMT3A is the most common driver mutation in HSCs.

The book begins well by telling us how the giant tortoises Darwin examined in the Galapagos Islands gave the first indication that “negligible senescence” and “biological immortality” were feasible – essentially the act of aging without displaying signs of old age. We could mimic them ourselves and greatly extend our lifespans if only we could understand the processes that allow these magnificent creatures to live so long. In 2006, Harriet, a Galapagos tortoise that Darwin collected in 1835, eventually died.

Steele reveals how near we really are to breaking the old age curse. We are only a few years away from halting and stopping the progression of ageing, extending life expectancy, and eradicating a host of biological ills that since time immemorial have haunted mankind. Steele deserves applause for that alone.

In this novel, there are some amazing surprises. Despite the dry introduction, science is interesting. Breakthroughs are now being made in the laboratory in genetics and medicine and are now ushering in a new biological age. Humanity will soon see an astonishing pace of lengthening average life expectancy-120 years or more will soon be a not unusual age at which to live largely intact with all physical and mental faculties.

Aging, we are discovering, is merely the sleight of hand of Mother Nature. It doesn’t matter how many years pass in terms of our lifetime, what matters is the deterioration of the body caused simply by living. DNA gets tattered, microscopic crud builds up in the body and causes everything from heart attacks to Alzheimer’s. Cells wear out. We can postpone aging, even suspend it, if we can find out how to avoid this biological collapse. The human body is truly a machine, and we are currently working on how to permanently repair it.

This is the biogerontology area – the study of human aging. What’s incredible is that scientists have known for decades that life can be prolonged, but science had little time or resources to spend in what was seen as the esoteric research of ageless aging, since diseases such as polio and smallpox dominated medicine until recently. Now, however, as science has evolved to the point that monstrous diseases such as cancer can be regulated – if not cured – scientists have the time and money to explore the last great frontier: the taming of aging itself.

We are on the brink of the kind of technological breakthroughs that will eventually stimulate a new generation of science fiction. I think we’re going to see “The Portrait of Dorian Gray” or “Her” reissues – both tales about the blessing and curse of immortality – as these revelations plunge into the imagination of the public.

What Steele says is both groundbreaking and significant – in the truest sense of the word, life-changing. His thinking is bold, ambitious, utopian: “Every day we put forward a cure for aging, we save 100,000 lives. We know it is scientifically possible. It’s now up to all of us to meet the critical humanitarian challenge of our time.”

Some aging studies have been macabre, such as splicing together two live rats – one young, one old – to see if the aging process in older animals can be slowed by youthful tissue. In short, the response is that it can lead, when it comes to vampirism, to a whole new definition.

More of it, I needed. I wanted to learn about the lives of insane geniuses who are about to change the human condition: their reasons, their inspirations, their motivations, their inspirations.

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