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Wolf has been Cried So Very Many Times When it Comes to Anti-Aging Therapies

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Posted 22 September 2017 - 10:25 PM

If you look at the media coverage of work on senolytic therapies, treatments that can clear out senescent cells and thus remove the contribution of these cells to the aging process, it is usually the case that there isn't much to distinguish it from the coverage of any random claim of progress towards anti-aging effects from either within or outside the scientific community: supplements, vitamins, diets, pharmaceuticals, and so forth. None of these other items work in the sense of repairing some of the cell and tissue damage that causes aging. The few that do slow aging do so marginally and in many cases unreliably. The output of the press is not the place one should be looking for accuracy or enlightenment, and it is futile to either demand or expect it to become any better than it is at the moment. Nonetheless, it is somewhat frustrating to see this in action now that the world is changing, and the first means of producing actual rejuvenation is almost upon us.

One could probably construct a metric of press quality that progresses in a spectrum from the worst tabloid to the best popular science effort, constructed on the basis of whether one can see any difference in the coverage of, say, the effects of senolytics on longevity (significant) and the effects of blueberry consumption on longevity (non-existent). Are objective measures offered? Is the tone exactly the same? Is the hypothetically entirely ignorant reader left thinking that senolytics and blueberries are in the same bucket of expected benefit? Or how about senolytics and antioxidant supplements? Or senolytics and whatever the diet of the month happens to be today? Or senolytics and metformin? Or senolytics and vitamin C? And so forth.

One of the problems here is that much of the press has a very limited number of buckets with which to categorize things, and an equally limited set of output formats. This is how they work cost-effectively when not being paid to propagate a specific viewpoint. So once a thing is tagged as "someone claims this can treat aging," into the same bucket as blueberries and metformin it goes, and the public at large is duly informed - with no attempt to draw any sort of distinction of truth, quality, or expected value to patients. Thus we live in a world in which everyone is told, repeatedly, that ways of turning back aging exist. Since we are in fact all aging to death, no-one believes this to be true. Or if they do, they know that the effects are obviously small and limited, or involve papering over aging in some way without much affecting the self-evident fact that people get old and die. Smoke and mirrors.

Now, I think that the public at large is generally smarter than most journalists credit. Media is primarily used as a way to note the advent of new things and changes in existing things, not as a resource for specific details. Even when the quality is terrible, it is better than trying to find out yourself, even if finding out for yourself was a practical possibility. However, this system breaks down in the scenario in which the media treats all new things in a category as being different shades of the same item. Blueberries and senolytics, just colors of blue or red on the same basic model. People then filter out these updates as being just background noise, and rationally so until now.

I have a vision of what will happen after the first human trials of senolytics demonstrate promise: much of the press will mangle this into something that looks exactly the same as a discussion of the alleged (and entirely non-existent) power of blueberries. It won't be the case that the populations of the world will suddenly awake to the possibilities. Only the parts of it that were already paying attention. Even after significant short-term benefits in human patients are demonstrated to result from the targeted removal of senescent cells, there will still be a need for advocacy and outreach to pull in significantly more funding to the field. That process of fundraising will certainly become easier, but it won't be the case that senolytics will the very next day be a word heard on every street corner.

There is a saying regarding the fact that every good idea needs to be forced upon people, following them to every venue, and waved under their noses until they have no choice but to consider it. It will be that way for the first rejuvenation therapies. It will probably be that way for the second, because they will be different, and work in different ways. Progress in creating the foundations of the future medical industry of rejuvenation becomes incrementally less challenging to engineer the more that the benefits are proven, but it will never become simply easy.

View the full article at FightAging
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