Feature Regenerative Medicine

Will medicine ever be able to halt the process of ageing?

BMJ 2011; 343 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.d4119 (Published 25 July 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;343:d4119
  1. Geoff Watts, freelance journalist
  1. 1London, UK
  1. geoff{at}scileg.freeserve.co.uk

Geoff Watts reports on the elusive search for ways to keep us young

Anti-ageing medicine may not be the most well developed branch of healthcare and medical research, but one thing it doesn’t lack is self confidence. “Anti-aging medicine is the pinnacle of biotechnology joined with advanced clinical preventive medicine,” according to the website of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M), one of the leading organisations in this endeavour.1 “It is scientific . . . It is evidence-based . . . It is well-documented in peer-reviewed journals.” The advances on offer to patients are the “most potent emerging biomedical technologies today.”

Some manifesto. And while A4M members and most other anti-ageists limit their ambitions to minimising age related disease and achieving a modest increase in longevity, a minority of true believers foresee much more: the indefinite postponement of death. Orthodox science may be irritated by what can be seen as ill founded over-optimism, but the notion of fending off the decrepitude of old age has always captured the public imagination. By 2015, according to one estimate, the global market in anti-ageing products will be worth nearly $300bn (£190bn; €210bn) annually.2

What, precisely, is encompassed by the term “anti-ageing”? A great deal of ordinary everyday medicine, be it the prevention of strokes or the removal of malignant tumours, is about prolonging life. But the full bloodied anti-ageing prospectus goes beyond this; it focuses not only on the diseases associated with age but on the process of ageing. Evidence of the benefits of disease interventions is overwhelming; those aimed at the ageing process are still characterised less by achievement than by theory, by extrapolation from laboratory experiments, and by a limited amount of animal work. The gulf separating the two remains wide if not unbridgeable.

You don’t of course …

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