Saturday, June 21, 2014

Why Study Longevity?

Dear Colleagues,

I would greatly appreciate your advice on how to respond to this criticism of longevity studies:

"The uniqueness of people with exceptional longevity and the focus on tail event longevity limits the overall value of longevity studies because living to 100 is a rare event.  Animal studies including genetic animal studies as well as human studies suggest that, short of dramatic medical advances that increase longevity for a large proportion of the population, living beyond 100 years old is largely a random event.  A random event still has causes; it merely suggests that a large number of factors may exert an impact individually or jointly. The usefulness of identifying longevity factors is limited.  Even if some longevity factor is more represented among centenarians, this information may be of limited use because the probability of a centenarian among people with this particular longevity factor is still so small. Many unknown factors could be at work."

Please advise.  Thank you!


Blogger Frank said...

Dear Dr. Gavilov

Put this in your own words; here is the response I submit:

This is not a criticism of longevity research - it is merely a crude sketch of the challenges facing serious scientific longevity research!

An individuals life is the sum total of googolplex events (pun intended;) Life, simply put, is a phenotype enduring its DNA inheritance complicated by epigenetic remodeling as mediated by individual life experience over myriad hours spent on planet Earth. Such are the random complications known as human aging.

Truth be told, studying exceptional longevity IS observation through a keyhole. But, so is looking at longevity at any age. So is science in general! So what?

What is this "overall value" and "usefulness" we are discussing here?

If this "value" is gathering knowledge for longevity research, it is case closed! In the scientific milieu, gathering more and more data about longevity to form hypotheses is the regimen. We build, brick by brick, this scientific knowlege into greater and more sophisticated models that explain the reality of aging.

Now, if this "usefulness" is about ending the misery of human aging ASAP I would refer you to Aubrey de Grey's engineering solution to the problem of aging: SENS.

If your "value" is creating a miracle anti-aging pill for Big Pharma, the burden is upon you to furnish a plausible alternative research direction along with scientific reasoning for such an awkward divergence from the status quo. What's the bottom line, son?

Finally, if your "value" is garnering research funding, you are on your own because those are trade secrets:P

Indeed, many unknown factors ARE at work! That is why we study exceptional longevity; to get that rare snapshot of the epitome of the phenomenon we aspire to, or at least, seek to understand. From there we work backwards to reverse engineer aging and flesh out the details of long life, no matter how frustratingly elusive, randomly unfolding and extremely difficult. Is life not worth such effort?

9:39 PM  
Anonymous Harry Banaharis said...

Understanding why centenarians are able to resist entering into a disease state for so long is a key strategy towards developing treatments that can help those without such 'particular longevity factors' to also achieve similar life/healthspans.

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