Anti-Aging Drug Research Is Taking Too Long

Anti-aging drugs that target mitochondria in hopes of eliminating the problem of aging seem to all have an interesting side effect. Test animals live longer, all right; and at the end, it's over quickly. I just want them to hurry up and start giving me some of the science-fictional options I've been reading about my whole life.

Mitochondria provide our bodies with chemical energy. They accumulate damage over time, causing tissues and cells to break down. Early work on drugs that boost mitochondria in lab animals shows that it can extend longevity and halt diseases like cancer and diabetes. But the lab animals tend to die quickly and inexplicably at the end.

"They die of natural death ....probably their heart stops to beat!" wrote Washington University School of Medicine caloric restriction pioneer Luigi Fontana of the rodents in his and other studies, which betray little evidence of the histopathological lesions -- tissue and organ damage or abnormality -- mentioned by Bartke. "The animal drops dead and we cannot really know why.... One expanation is the failure of the electrical conductive system of the heart because of metabolic alterations.... No pain, no suffering, no medical and social cost for society!"

SF authors have been fantasizing about what anti-aging treatments would be like; this possible future has been imagined by Robert Heinlein in his 1941 novel Methuselah's Children.

"What it adds up to is that, for members of the Families, senility is postponed and that senescence can be arrested at least cosmetically." She brooded for a moment. "Once they thought they were on the track of the secret of immortality, the true Fountain of Youth. But it was a mistake. Senility is simply postponed . . . and shortened. About ninety days from the first clear warning-then death from old age." She shivered. "Of course, most of our cousins don't wait-a couple of weeks to make certain of the diagnosis, then euthanasia."

Other imagined futures (why must they always have a flaw?); Kurt Vonnegut wrote about anti-gerasone in his well-known short story Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow. Anti-gerasone's flaw was that it worked too well - neither material goods nore inheritance laws could keep up.

In A World Out Of Time, Larry Niven writes about a drug called young-forever, which puts off death almost forever. Unfortunately, it works only with children, who then never go through puberty.

In This Immortal, Roger Zelazny refers to the Sprung-Samser treatments, which confer a measure of longer life, but which are only used after the subject has aged, due to potential side-effects.

And don't forget the anti-agathics from James Blish's excellent series Cities in Flight.

Story via Wired.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/25/2007)

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