Ageing medicine: money or life

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Ageing medicine: money or life
Ageing medicine: money or life

Money or life

It remains to be seen whether there will ever be therapy against aging. But one thing is already certain: if it exists, it will not be cheap, because aging is a complex process. Who will it be accessible to? Preventing aging becomes a luxury product unaffordable for the common man.


The dream of an elixir of life that keeps you young forever is as "Image" as Greek mythology and as new as the magic world of Harry Potter. Although life expectancy is much higher today than it was 50 years ago because many diseases can be cured, the aging process itself cannot yet be stopped. Aging is a fate that affects everyone. Many a doctor or researcher - also affected - no longer wants to see it. An anti-aging movement has emerged whose representatives want to get to the root of the problem – they see age-related diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer's dementia or heart failure as symptoms of the aging process that need to be combated. If aging could be controlled, such diseases would not occur in the first place. alt="

We generally understand the aging process as something unavoidable. Just as houses or bridges deteriorate, just as a car eventually stops running, we humans eventually stop functioning. Cells age, telomeres at the ends of chromosomes shorten, DNA accumulates mutations, tissues die, rendering organs inoperable. But it's a bit different in humans than in cars: the body has its own repair mechanisms. Old tissues are constantly being replaced (though not all), broken pieces of DNA are being repaired, and telomeres are being lengthened.

Car Mechanic

If you want to counteract the aging process, you need to boost these protective mechanisms. This is already possible in genetically modified test animals. There is now a whole zoo of longevity mutants in which biochemical signaling pathways that regulate cellular repair mechanisms have been altered. And so it can be assumed that an intervention in such signaling pathways could also slow down the aging process in humans - at least in theory.

There is still a long and expensive road to a therapy against aging – if one is ever developed. Any drug intervention in biochemical signaling pathways disturbs a capricious balance, any anti-aging drug will have corresponding side effects. The advantages and disadvantages would have to be weighed against each other in clinical tests - an extremely lengthy process, because after all it is about proving that a therapy prolongs life.

"If I live to be 110 "Image", the chances are roughly 50:50 that I will also live to 1000 and much older" alt="

(Aubrey de Grey) Whether, when, and by how many years medicine will be able to extend human life is a matter of debate. As long as there is any hope, life extension will be eagerly researched. However, pharmacological intervention in the regulation of repair mechanisms is not the only starting point. Anti-aging measures range from simple advice to exercise or diet, to controversial uses such as hormone replacement therapy, to more future-oriented stem cell therapy to replace diseased organs. A broad anti-aging movement is manifested primarily in the USA in organizations with names such as the "Methuselah Foundation" or the "Immortality Institute", which promote research, organize conferences and publish journals. Optimists see immortality within reach, and no approach is too daring or even just too expensive.

Methusalem Fantasias

For example, self-proclaimed bio-gerontologist Aubrey de Grey. Once advances in rejuvenation medicine outpace the aging process itself, we'll have achieved immortality, he reckons. "If I live to be 110, I reckon I have at least a 50/50 chance of living to 1,000, and most likely much older," de Gray told New Scientist magazine in April 2005. His ideas are already borderline Voodoo. A single measure will not be enough to achieve immortality, says de Grey, which he is probably right about. He wants to defy the aging process with seven methods. They range as far as the idea of genetically modifying people in such a way that all body cells die before they can become ill and then regularly replacing them with fresh stem cells. De Gray talks about possible costs in less detail.

Long life is a luxury product. Children in Japan already have a life expectancy of around 80 years, in Zimbabwe they only live half as long on average. But even within the industrialized countries, life expectancy is not evenly distributed. Taking the subway in Washington DC from the southeast end of downtown to Montgomery County in Maryland increases life expectancy by about 1.5 years for every mile traveled, writes Michael Marmot in his book The Status Syndrome.. Once medicine is able to intervene directly in the aging process, the imbalance will only increase - even if the future doesn't look quite as futuristic as de Gray imagines.

Make-up remove the age

If you don't want to wait for a future à la de gray, there is already a broad market for anti-aging products. From anti-wrinkle cream to hair restorer to life-prolonging food additives, everything can be bought and usually at handsome prices. Most of it is not medically tested. The fact that people are still willing to spend money shows how much they want to escape the aging process.

A market for privately financed anti-aging medicine is currently booming in the USA. The "American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine" (A4M) includes over a thousand doctors and almost a hundred clinics. According to a study by Courtney Everts Mykytyn at the University of Southern California, many of these physicians turned to antiaging medicine because they were frustrated with a he alth care system that lacked time for individual patients and severely limited treatment options. Now they serve private patients, develop an individual anti-aging program with them in long sessions and are not accountable to the he alth insurance companies for the costs. You sell a luxury product. Of course, they don't change anything in the system, they just withdraw into a niche. Many of them believe they can revolutionize medicine and create eternal life.

Even if many products in today's market for aging medicine are of questionable medical use and some visions of the future seem unrealistic, this does not mean that prolonging life is impossible. But in any case, appropriate measures would be associated with considerable costs and therefore not accessible to everyone. Most countries in the world have other concerns, but even in the "first world countries" life extension therapy would hardly be economically viable. The statutory he alth insurance funds are overburdened with financing the fight against the disease and could not pay for the luxury of an aging prevention therapy. The rich can buy years of life, the poor are only treated when they are already ill.

It's not to say that a society in which people live 100 years alt=""Image" or even much older, couldn't function. After all, today we're getting twice the "image" of the ancient Romans, and the quality of life hasn't dropped as a result. However, there is a danger that anti-aging medicine will not benefit society as a whole, but only a small group. There is still a lot to do in aging research - both medically and socio-politically. alt="

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