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Distinction Without a Difference?

Most medical research is done by trying to prevent people dying. And Aubrey says we should simply extend this into ageing. Actually, now, we are in a situation of being able to harness what comes from the basic biomedical research to try to devise a better way to age.

And if that leads to life extension, that's great. But it's difficult to see the path to make that happen.

-Professor Tom Kirkwood

Dr. Kirkwood is gerontologist with a very impressive resume. So it's discouraging to to see him discounting the possibility of life extension.

Fortunately for all of us, researchers don't necessarily have to see "the path" to make a contribution to it.

I wonder also how sincere Kirwood is being in his assertion that "it's difficult to see the path to make that happen." The path looks long and difficult, but it seems obvious too. Aging is a complex group of problems. If any treatment makes any of Aubrey de Grey's "seven deadly things" less deadly, then you have life extension.

The problems that cause aging can and probably will be addressed initially as preventative medicine. Established medicine will stoop to calling it "life extension" only after it's blatantly obvious to every 100-year-old on the tennis courts.

I support efforts to devise "better ways to age" the same way I support efforts to devise better ways to hit yourself in the head with a hammer. Both projects would be good, but wouldn't it be better to avoid the underlying activity?

More seriously, "better ways to age" and "life extention" is a distinction without a difference. Now I suppose that there are some problems of old age that can be addressed without extending life. Viagra and Rogaine are drugs that address two problems that are often associated with advancing age. Neither will extend your life.

But any treatment that directly addresses the aging problem - something that slows degeneration - will extend life. Unless Kirkwood's hopes are limited to palliatives like Viagra and Rogaine, "better ways to age" is just "life extension" by another name.

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