Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The headline is always way ahead of the reality

When it comes to that curious genre of news called Medical Breakthrough! The NYT puts on its front page no less a report that a chemical related to the much hyped resveratrol extends the life span of fat mice. That's very exciting if you happen to be a fat mouse but for Homo sapiens, not so much. You have to read to the end of the story to learn that:

The treated fat mice lived longer than the untreated ones, but died long before the normal mice. Although the treated fat mice lived significantly longer on average, there was little difference between their maximum life span and that of the untreated mice. The drug, in other words, helped the fat mice enjoy more of their available life span without increasing the span itself. . . .

Because of the uncertainty about several earlier findings, the sirtuin field has become polarized. “Some people are strongly in support, and others are convinced there’s nothing there,” said Brian Kennedy, president of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. He described himself as standing in the middle, but hopeful that the sirtuins would turn out to be “key modulators of aging.”

In other words, it isn't actually delaying the aging process, it's just ameliorating some of the ill effects of obesity. In mice. And experiments with similar substances in humans so far have been a bust.

Anyway, has anybody really thought through what it would mean to extend the human life span? What if we do come up with a pill that will make large numbers of people live to be 120 years old? Is that actually such a great idea? Think about it. . . .


roger said...

we need a pill to shorten life.

oh. we have those already.

C. Corax said...

Roger, if I'm going to shorten my life, I'll want something a tad more fun than a pill!

Okay, Cervantes, I've read the text you quote three times, and I admit I'm so tired, I can barely keep my eyes open, but I'm having trouble parsing the double speak here. The treated mice lived longer than the untreated mice, but they didn't have a longer life span. I thought life span = length of life. Do they mean life "expectancy"? In other words, are they saying that no matter what, fat mice can live no longer than x months. If they take the drug, more of them will make it closer to that outer limit than the untreated obese mice, but they won't exceed it?

And what does any of this have to do with aging?

Color me confused.