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20 March 2009

The industry with the greatest potential for disruptive growth

Filed under: aging, healthcare, UKTA — David Wood @ 11:37 pm

Where is the next big opportunity?

According to renowned Harvard Business School professor and author Clayton Christensen, in a video recorded recently for BigThink:

The biggest opportunities are in healthcare. We are now just desperate to make healthcare affordable and accessible. Healthcare is something that everybody consumes. There are great opportunities for non-consumers to be brought into the market by making things affordable and accessible. I just can’t think of another industry that has those kinds of characteristics where demand is robust, and there’s such great opportunities for disruption.

The healthcare industry has many angles. I’m personally fascinated by the potential of smart mobile devices to play significant new roles in maintaining and improving people’s health.

Another important dimension to healthcare is the dimension of reducing (or even altogether removing) the impacts of aging. In an article on “10 ideas changing the world right now”, Time magazine recently coined the word “amortality” for the growing trend for people who seek to keep the same lifestyle and appearance, regardless of their physical age:

When Simon Cowell let slip last month that he planned to have his corpse cryonically preserved, wags suggested that the snarky American Idol judge may have already tested the deep-freezing procedure on his face. In 2007, Cowell, now 49, told an interviewer that he used Botox. “I like to take care of myself,” he said. Cowell is in show biz, where artifice routinely imitates life. But here’s a fact startling enough to raise eyebrows among Botox enthusiasts: his fellow Brits, famously unconcerned with personal grooming, have tripled the caseload of the country’s cosmetic surgeons since 2003. The transfiguration of the snaggletoothed island race is part of a phenomenon taking hold around the developed world: amortality.

You may not have heard of amortality before – mainly because I’ve just coined the term. It’s about more than just the ripple effect of baby boomers’ resisting the onset of age. Amortality is a stranger, stronger alchemy, created by the intersection of that trend with a massive increase in life expectancy and a deep decline in the influence of organized religion – all viewed through the blue haze of Viagra…

Amortals don’t just dread extinction. They deny it. Ray Kurzweil encourages them to do so. Fantastic Voyage, which the futurist and cryonics enthusiast co-wrote with Terry Grossman, recommends a regimen to forestall aging so that adherents live long enough to take advantage of forthcoming “radical life-extending and life-enhancing technologies.” Cambridge University gerontologist Aubrey de Grey is toiling away at just such research in his laboratory. “We are in serious striking distance of stopping aging,” says De Grey, founder and chairman of the Methuselah Foundation, which awards the Mprize to each successive research team that breaks the record for the life span of a mouse…

Notions of age-appropriate behavior will soon be relegated as firmly to the past as dentures and black-and-white television. “The important thing is not how many years have passed since you were born,” says Nick Bostrom, director of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford, “but where you are in your life, how you think about yourself and what you are able and willing to do.” If that doesn’t sound like a manifesto for revolution, it’s only because amortality has already revolutionized our attitudes toward age.

Just how feasible is the idea of radical life extension? In part, it depends on what you think about the aging processes that take place in humans. Are these processes fixed, or can they somehow be influenced?

One person who is engaged in a serious study of this topic is Dr Richard Faragher, Reader in the School of Pharmacy and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of Brighton on the English south coast. Richard describes the research interests of his team as follows:

We “do” senescence. Why do we do this? Because it has been suggested for over 30 years that the phenomenon of cell senescence may be linked in some way to human ageing. Senescence is the progressive replicative failure of a population of cells to divide in culture. Once senescent, cells exhibit a wide range of changes in phenotype and gene expression which give them the potential to alter the behaviour of any tissue in which they are found. In its modern form the cell hypothesis of ageing suggests that the progressive accumulation of such senescent cells (as a result of ongoing tissue turnover) may contribute to the ageing process.

Richard is the featured speaker at this month’s Extrobritannia (UKTA) meeting in Central London, this Saturday (21st March). The title for his talk is “One foot in the future. Attaining the 10,000+ year lifespan you always wanted?”:

Dr Richard Faragher, Reader in Gerontology, School of Pharmacy & Biomolecular Sciences, University of Brighton, will review the aging process across the animal kingdom together with the latest scientific insights into how it may operate. The lecture will also review promising avenues for translation into practice over the next few years, and current barriers to progress in aging research will be considered.

I’m expecting a lively but informative discussion!

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