Remarks on Rejuvenation

 

Rejuvenation Would Be a Lease, Not a Gift        
     Maybe it should be mentioned that rejuvenation would presumably have to be carried out over and over again. Even if someone could be restored to a state of perfect repair, you would expect them to begin aging again in the usual way. (The possibility might eventually exist of keeping them closer to a state of full repair than is the case today. We know how to do that in limited ways through sensible diet and restricted calorie intake.) Consequently, if they weren't periodically rejuvenated, they would eventually "die of old age". This might provide a way of enforcing contracts signed in return for rejuvenation, such as a promise to have no children during a certain period or until one can take one's turn.

Two-Thirds of All Americans Don't Want to Live to 120
    I have just read something that amazes me. An ABC poll has found that "an overwhelming majority prefers to face those so-called golden years naturally, rather than take artificial measures to help roll back the clock." In fact, "If it were possible, 65 percent say they wouldn't want to live to 120." A companion article says, 
    "In the past 10 years, the number of people having cosmetic surgery has tripled. In 2001, more than 8 .5 million Americans spent more than $8 billion on some kind of cosmetic procedure, most of them women. More than a million got collagen injections. Nearly 1.5 million underwent chemical peels and more than $300 million was doled out for the poison that paralyzes frown lines Botox.
    "If we weren't injecting our faces, we were slathering on more than $300 million in anti-aging creams, and consuming more than $16 billion worth of vitamins and supplements. We also sweat through $12 billion in health club memberships."
    This doesn't include those who jog, swim, walk at the mall, or play tennis, or the ones who don't engage in efforts to stay fit and wish that they did. I'm hard-pressed to think of any of septuagenarians who aren't trying to remain as young as they can for as long as they can. An article that just came in says that Pope John Paul is thought to be taking a papaya extract to combat his Parkinson's Disease. 

What Wonderful News! Do You Believe It?
    But I find this disinterest in combating aging and in letting nature take its course to be soul-soaring news. It means that the problems that the retardation or reversal of aging would bring would be greatly muted. No more than a third of all U. S. citizens would want to live to be 120. Imagine how few would want to live even longer than that!
    My only problem is that I'm not sure I can believe it. I don't know anyone my age who isn't seeking to prolong their good health as long as possible. I'm hard-pressed to think of any of septuagenarians who aren't trying to remain as young as they can for as long as they can. An article that just came in says that Pope John Paul is thought to be taking a papaya extract to combat his Parkinson's Disease. What we're talking about here isn't just wrinkles or an occasional twinge now and then. We're talking about cancer, strokes, heart attacks, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, and crippling arthritis.... about terminally bad health. The nutritional supplement aisles of Walmart and K-Mart, and the aisles of health food stores are peopled with a disproportionately large number of elderly, who are fighting the ravages of age. And when it comes to "facing those so-called golden years naturally", to be logically consistent about it, "naturally" means facing life without doctors, antibiotics, or herbs--without taking any unnatural (i. e., medical) measures to combat illness. Medicine--ancient and modern--has already extended human lives unnaturally, far beyond what animals experience. I don't see how anyone could say with a straight face that taking antibiotics or Advil is in any way natural. And I have yet to see anyone refuse antibiotics or ibuprofen because they want to live a natural life and die a natural death. So I'm not entirely comfortable that the people who are (allegedly) making these statements are willing to put their money where their mouths are when itch gets down to scratch.
    This is one of the most important facts about combating aging - it's inextricably intertwined with health. 
    Sixty-five percent of the people surveyed said they wouldn't want to see more centenarians than are out there now because it might cause society problems. Let's see, now. If you found out tomorrow that you had terminal, metastatic cancer of some type, but that you could cure it by taking some kind of cancer cure, would you say, "Nah. My living longer might cause problems for society. I think I'll just choose to die in agony"?
    Of course, most people who respond to a survey don't have time to think about it. I know that I wouldn't. I would toss it off without deep thought or research. But the interesting question to me is whether whoever wrote the article wanted to present this conclusion, and set up the survey to encourage the results he or she wanted to present.

Rejuvenation Has Already Begun
    A companion article explains that there are now several treatments that will actually reverse aging in skin. Tommie Jean happened to be tuned in to the original TV program when it was shown on ABC night before last. They showed before and after pictures taken in a research study of a stem-cell cream, and pointed out the (visible) changes in women's jaw lines and sagging jowls that were firmed up by their experimental cream. There were also two other approaches described in the article and presented visually in the TV special.
    I've already discussed Dimericine.
    I suspect that Tommie and other young-looking sexagenarians and septuagenarians we know are probably already beneficiaries of this technology. 
    It's hard for me to imagine a woman over forty who isn't putting face cream on her face, and who won't soon be applying anti-aging creams to her complexion as they become cheap and ubiquitous. Even Retin-A is being included in some over-the-counter preparations, along with vitamin E, aloe vera, retinol, collagen amino acids, and other unguents and nutrients. These restorative ingredients are hard to avoid in skin lotions and sunscreens. Undoubtedly, there will be a lot of improvements in these pomades over the next ten or twenty years. And if aging reversal requires the infusion of a gallimaufry of DNA repair enzymes and de-glycation agents, then these will probably apear one at a time. The new buzzword coined recently to describe these restorative spikenards is "dermaceuticals". Where previous rejuvenating creams have been heapings of hype, these new clock-subtractors are the real thing.
    One of the problems may be that naturally occurring biological agents can't be patented. That fact could reduce the incentive to produce them and sell them.

If We Could Reverse Aging, Would We Turn into Newbies Again? Or into Embryos?
    One of the key questions everyone asks is, "To what age would they return if they were rejuvenated? Would they become newborn infants again? Or embryos?"
    Of course, if we were transformed into something other than young adults, it would be an unacceptable price to pay. My hope is that differentiated cells would be restored to a pristine state. A restored octogenarian might look like a teenager or young adult, with the skin of a baby. I would speculate that nothing could be done within the framework of a hypothetical rejuvenation program to regenerate missing post-mitotic cells, such as muscle and neural tissue. (Other interventions may some day give us techniques for restoring damaged cardiac muscle or missing neurons.) However, the tissue that remained might perform better in the rejuvenated individual than it did in the pre-rejuvenated adult. Bone growths such as bunions perhaps wouldn't be eliminated or corrected by cellular rejuvenation. My fantasy is that a knowledge of Nature's  mechanisms of rejuvenation in egg cells and unicellular organisms will permit us to develop a "cocktail" of the same agents that germ cells use to create clean copies of themselves either just before or just after reproduction. These might then rejuvenate our own somatic cells in aged bodies.
    Treatments of youth extension in the past have often dealt with it in a horrific way, typically with the overly-aged suddenly aging within a few minutes to the point of shriveling up into mummies. This is a good way to add shock appeal to your novel.  The average lifespan in 1776 was 35; today, it's 77. Can't you imagine how someone living in 1776 would have greeted the idea that the average lifespan 225 years later would be 77? Why, they'd be toothless, mindless, blind, bent old zombies with ear trumpets, unable to get out of bed!
    The point is: we've already more than doubled the average lifespan. It's a little late to be talking about letting nature take its course. (As I recall, the average life span in the Stone Age wasn't much over twenty.)

Population Restraint: the Real Horsefly in the Aging-Reversal Ointment
    In contemplating the implications of aging reversal for the stabilization of our world population, I had thought that the fact that each person needs to reproduce themselves meant that everybody could have one child. Occasionally, someone could even have two children because a few individuals would have no children. But what I didn't consider was the question of timing. If everyone planning rejuvenation had one child early in life, then we'd see a population explosion, as progeny built up exponentially, with great-great-great-great-grandparents remaining alive for, perhaps, hundreds of years. What would seem to me to be required would be, at a minimum, a central registry that would keep track of births and deaths. Then a given individual would "wait in line" until her or his turn came. It would amount to the fact that a new birth could occur only when a death occurred first. Perhaps every tenth or twentieth opening would be distributed by lottery, so that there would always be a significant chance of having a child sooner than strict order would dictate.
    I don't like this conclusion, but I don't see a way around it. And I don't expect to be one of the army of researchers that renders rejuvenation a reality. My job is to anticipate the retardation and/or reversal of aging, and cope with it.