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29 December 2020

The best book on the science of aging in the last ten years

Filed under: aging, books, rejuveneering, science, The Abolition of Aging — Tags: , — David Wood @ 10:44 am

Science points to many possibilities for aging to be reversed. Within a few decades, medical therapies based on these possibilities could become widespread and affordable, allowing all of us, if we wish, to remain in a youthful state for much longer than is currently the norm – perhaps even indefinitely. Instead of healthcare systems continuing to consume huge financial resources in order to treat people with the extended chronic diseases that become increasingly common as patients’ bodies age, much smaller expenditure would keep all of us much healthier for the vast majority of the time.

Nevertheless, far too many people fail to take these possibilities seriously. They believe that aging is basically inevitable, and that people who say otherwise are deluded and/or irresponsible.

Public opinion matters. Investments made by governments and by businesses alike are heavily influenced by perceived public reaction. Without active public support for smart investments in support of the science and medicine that could systematically reverse aging, that outcome will be pushed backwards in time – perhaps even indefinitely.

What can change this public opinion? An important part of the answer is to take the time to explain the science of aging in an accessible, engaging way – including the many recent experimental breakthroughs that, collectively, show such promise.

That’s exactly what Dr Andrew Steele accomplishes in his excellent book Ageless: The new science of getting older without getting old.

The audio version of this book became available on Christmas Eve, narrated by Andrew himself. It has been a delight to listen to it over the intervening days.

Over the last few years, I’ve learned a great deal from a number of books that address the science of aging, and I’ve been happy to recommend these books to wider audiences. These include:

But I hope that these esteemed authors won’t mind if I nominate Andrew Steele’s book as a better starting point into the whole subject. Here’s what’s special about it:

  • It provides a systematic treatment of the science, showing clear relationships between the many different angles to what is undeniably a complex subject
  • The way it explains the science seems just right for the general reader with a good basic education – neither over-simplified or over-dense
  • There’s good material all the way through the book, to keep readers turning the pages
  • The author is clearly passionate about his research, seeing it as important, but he avoids any in-your-face evangelism
  • The book avoids excessive claims or hyperbole: the claims it makes are, in my view, always well based
  • Where research results have been disappointing, there’s no attempt to hide these or gloss over them
  • The book includes many interesting anecdotes, but the point of these stories is always the science, rather than the personalities or psychologies of the researchers involved, or clashing business interests, or whatever
  • The information it contains is right up to date, as of late 2020.

Compared to other research, Ageless provides a slightly different decomposition of what is known as the hallmarks of aging, offering ten in total:

  1. DNA damage and mutations
  2. Trimmed telomeres
  3. Protein problems: autophagy, amyloids and adducts
  4. Epigenetic alterations
  5. Accumulation of senescent cells
  6. Malfunctioning mitochondria
  7. Signal failure
  8. Changes in the microbiome
  9. Cellular exhaustion
  10. Malfunction of the immune system

As the book points out, there are three criteria for something to be a useful “hallmark of aging”:

  1. It needs to increase with age
  2. Accelerating a hallmark’s progress should accelerate aging
  3. Reducing the hallmark should decrease aging

The core of the book is a fascinating survey of interventions that could reduce each of these hallmarks and thereby decrease aging – that is, decrease the probability of dying in the next year. These interventions are grouped into four categories:

  1. Remove
  2. Replace
  3. Repair
  4. Reprogram

Each category of intervention is in turn split into several subgroups. Yes, the treatment of aging is likely to be complicated. However, there are plenty of examples in which single interventions turned out to have multiple positive effects on different hallmarks of aging.

There are a couple of points where some readers might quibble with the content, for example regarding dietary supplements, or whether the concept of group selection can ever be useful within evolutionary theory.

However, my own presentations on the subject of the abolition of aging will almost certainly evolve in the light of the framework and examples in Ageless. I’m much the wiser from reading it.

Here’s my advice to anyone who, like me, believes the subject of reversing aging is important, and who wishes to accelerate progress in this field:

  • Read Ageless with some care, all the way through
  • Digest its contents and explore the implications, for example via discussion in online groups
  • Recommend others to read it too.

Ideally, a sizeable proportion of the book’s readers will alter their own research or other activity, in order to assist the projects covered in Ageless.

Finally, a brief comparison between Ageless and the remarkable grandfather book of this whole field: Ending Aging: The Rejuvenation Breakthroughs That Could Reverse Human Aging in Our Lifetime, authored by Aubrey de Grey and Michael Rae. Ending Aging was published in 2007 and remains highly relevant, even though numerous experimental findings and new ideas have emerged since its publication. There’s a deep overlap in the basic approach advocated in the two books. Both books are written by polymaths who are evidently very bright – people who, incidentally, did their first research in fields outside biology, and who brought valuable external perspectives to the field.

So I see Ageless as a worthy successor to Ending Aging. Indeed, it’s probably a better starting point for people less familiar with this field, in view of its coverage of important developments since 2007, and some readers may find Andrew’s writing style more accessible.

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