What Life Extension Is and What it Isn’t
People call it life extension, rejuvenation, anti-aging, age-reversal, longevity research, geroscience, rejuvenation biotechnology, and even biomedical gerontology, but what exactly is it?
What life extension is
While “life extension” is technically correct, it is somewhat more nuanced than simply just increasing lifespan. It describes the development of medical technologies that target aging directly to restore tissue and organs to a more youthful state.
The goal is to make chronologically old and chronologically young people, at every physical level, indistinguishable from one another. If successful the result of this would be the reversal, delay, or prevention of age-related diseases.
Healthy longevity would also be a likely pleasant side effect of rejuvenating an older person. What if you could enjoy a few more decades of healthy life? It would mean more time to spend with loved ones, enjoying hobbies and doing all the other things you love to do.
There are plenty of great reasons why longevity is a positive and desirable thing. Healthy and longer human lives are ultimately the goal of life extension.
What counts as a rejuvenation therapy?
Unfortunately, no single therapy will completely solve aging. There will be no magic bullet when it comes to fixing the damage aging does to our bodies. Because the causes of aging are so broad and interlinked, the technology must be equally broad and comprehensive to bring about rejuvenation.
Aging consists of multiple processes (hallmarks) that gradually cause harm and lead to age-related disease and death. Therapies would need to impact one of these aging processes directly to be considered rejuvenation.
For example, senolytics count as rejuvenation because they eliminate harmful senescent cells, which accumulate with age and are one of the reasons we age.
Stem cell therapies are also rejuvenation because they address stem cell exhaustion, restoring the body’s youthful ability to repair tissues.
Most products marketed as “anti-aging” or that purport to “rejuvenate” the body do not actually address any of these aging hallmarks. Normally they are bogus products and services that prey on people who do not understand the difference between science and marketing spin.
What life extension isn’t
While most of us can probably agree that healthy longevity is a good thing, there is a big misunderstanding about what it is. It is not about curing death, living forever, or immortality. Such things are likely so far in the future they are beyond our scope, assuming they are even possible.
Even if our field succeeds in bringing the aging processes under medical control, that does not mean death will no longer happen. The Grim Reaper is not going anywhere anytime soon.
At its core, our field is focused on delaying, preventing, and reversing age-related diseases through rejuvenation technologies.
Of course an increased healthy lifespan is the likely result of developing technologies to make people biologically younger. More healthy life is surely a great thing, but that is in no way the same as ending death or immortality.
People frequently mix up the defeat of aging with the defeat of death. This gives entirely the wrong impression about what our field is doing, and so it is important to understand the difference between the two.
In a nutshell, our field is developing medicine. Sure, novel and advanced forms of medicine that address aging, but it is still medicine.