Upon finding out about Index, Elysium Health’s aging tracker through an article on Gwyneth Paltrow’s infamous health tech company, my first instinct was not to rejoice that we had found the philosopher’s stone, that alchemical potion said to bring an end to ailment – far from it! Being a skeptical sort, I am not taken with modish start-ups that brandish such outlandish claims as being able to track, and even reverse, the user’s state of aging. Imagine my dismay and disbelief, then, dear reader, when upon researching I was informed that some of the world’s foremost biomedical gerontologists and leading aging scientists are working side-by-side with venture capital firms like Elysium. One of Elysium Health’s top products is Index, which purports to provide your true biological health. It takes as its data a host of markers, from digital markers like heart rate and walking speed, genetic markers which use genotyping and DNA methylation profiling (predictive cell-level analysis to assess the genetic proponent of your aging) , and blood markers such as fasting glucose, cholesterol, and so on. Products that assess your rate of aging, I soon found out, were only the tip of the iceberg when it came to the expansive ‘anti-aging’ industry.
What is being proposed here is an entire society, even global movement, of humans that live at least to 100 years old, which in turn, potentially raises questions about the entire nature of society.
When I looked into the anti-aging industry, I quickly realised I would have to confront how little I knew about aging. What we refer to as aging might more accurately be described as damage, which accumulates from before we exit the womb and which reaches a tipping point at some point in life, at which juncture we are burdened with a choice selection of neurological and psychological degeneration. I learned that startling fact from One of these leading gerontologists, and one most in the public eye, Aubrey de Grey, founder of the non-profit SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) and linked with the Methuselah Foundation (named after a Biblical character who reportedly lived to the ripe old age of 969). Within the first minutes of his 2006 TED Talk he conjectures that modest life extension from developing aging therapies for middle-age people could be 30 years. His immodest proposal is to end aging altogether! He explains that a natural result of metabolism, that complex process that keeps us alive, eventually gives rise to pathology, complex processes of anti-homeostatic pathology that lead to death.
This is more than a mere ‘theory of aging’, urges de Grey – his various projects are analysing all forms of cellular and molecular damage, and apps that track your age and remind you to eat vegetables are the tip of a tremendous iceberg. De Grey spoke to Tom Critland about his role in nucleating (his word not mine) “a growing community of researchers, investors, donors, advocates of various types, and now it’s a real movement, and we are within striking distance of bringing aging under really genuine medical control.” This came from the development of technologies like iPS (induced pluripotent stem cells) and CRISPR (a precise tool for editing genes), the former of which are cells that can take the form of any other specialised human cell, and which may ‘proliferate’, essential meaning the cells are immortal! De Grey working in his role at AgeX Therapeutics has helped develop technologies like PureStem and induced Tissue Regeneration (iTR), both high-end treatments targeted at replicative immortality and regenerative capacity in cells.
What is being proposed here is an entire society, even global movement, of humans that live at least to 100 years old, which in turn, potentially raises questions about the entire nature of society, with profound implications for the way we exist in the world. Does the body age alone or does the soul age too? What could the impact of keeping us around later be on society as a whole? In a recent tweet, de Grey wrote “I now think there is a 50% chance that we will reach longevity escape velocity by 2036. After that point (the “Methuselarity”), those who regularly receive the latest rejuvenation therapies will never suffer from age-related ill-health at any age.” Could this mean a class of humans are granted a sip of the nectar of immortality as soon as 2036? It sounds extraordinary, but it may just be within the reach of modern science.