City Visions: Are we close to a cure for aging?

Apr 24, 2017

What if we could end aging and prevent age-related diseases? Joseph Pace and guests explore recent advances in aging and longevity research. 

How close are we to achieving a significant extension in human life and improvement in health? What are the consequences of an older but healthier population? And, even if we can increase life-expectancy, does that mean we should?

Guests:

-        Dr. Thomas Rando, Professor of Neurology at Stanford Hospital and Clinics, Chief of Neurology at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System, Director of the Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging at Stanford, and Deputy Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity

-        Dr. Eric Verdin, President and CEO of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, and Professor of Medicine at UCSF Medical Center.

-        Dr. Joon Yun, President and managing partner of Palo Alto Investors, member of multiple corporate and non-profit boards, and benefactor of several prizes in aging research and innovation.

Excerpts:

Joon Yun:  "There are literally hundreds of thousands of people dying per week from aging and its related diseases. That would make it the largest humanitarian crisis on the planet right now, except it happens out of sight. The idea of ego, I think the people that are doing it, are doing it knowing that it may not help those of us that are here. But why not give it a shot? We know that there are people on the brink. This is a great thing to do for the generation that's older than us. I'm in the middle of my life. I was told that when I got to this age, it would be a crisis. It doesn't feel that way at all. Right? The people that love us most are often around, the people that we love most are...our families. Mid-life is... It feels like the sweet spot. We have a chance to do something great for the people that begat us, and it's an opportunity to leave a great legacy."

"Homeostasis is the state of equilibrium. And you're able to achieve that as some sum... The sum of your homeostatic capacity and all the stressors that are out there. I guess the easiest way to visualize this is the weeble wobble. The weeble wobble is a toy from the 1970s. It's egg shaped, and when you push it, it kind of self-centers. But that's essentially what nature endowed in us. It's been selected by evolution, and is so effective that we don't realize we have it until we start losing it. So when we're young, we're not feeling healthy, we feel nothing. Right? When you're 14 years old. And then at my age, you start to feel something.

Okay, so what do I feel at 40? Now, when I go on a roller coaster, I come out of it wobbling. I can't self-center, I can't recalibrate. My kids have no idea what I'm talking about. When it's 50 degrees out they're in T-shirts, and I'm in two layers of coats. When I go into the mountains in Tahoe, 8,000 feet, I'm huffing and puffing, and I feel dizzy, and they have no idea what I'm talking about. Same thing with recovery from a wound, recovery from a late night hangover, a jet lag, all those things, I can't self-center anymore. Injury, bone break. When I go into the restaurant, my pupils don't open up enough, so everything looks too dark. So what if this is all one thing? What if a parsimonious explanation, the Occam's Razor for all this is lost capacity, lost resilience, is a good way to think about, lost robustness, lost coping mechanism, buffering, the ability to get to homeostasis."

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"Joseph Pace: Okay. And what do you do to expand your lifespan? 

Eric Verdun: Well, I like to quote Jack LaLanne, who some of you listening might be familiar, with who said that, "Nutrition is king. Exercise is queen. Put them together and you have a kingdom." I think I tried to combine exercise and parsimonious eating and some episodic fasting. And so, these are the things that I personally do."

Joseph Pace: Great. Tom Rando, again, what's the horizon look like for you? 

Tom Rando: So, I think the horizon is quite different than it was 10 years ago, and that's really the remarkable pivot, is that 10 or 15 years ago, very few people were talking about this question, about treatments or interventions that might extend health span or extend lifespan. That's changed dramatically. There's interest on the scientific side, there's interest in the investors side, there's obviously interest from the public and we're seeing just an explosion, I would say, of investment, whether it's scientific or capital...

Joseph Pace: In the stem cell world, how long till something hits market, so to say? 

Tom Rando: Again, we're already at that point of trials being done so it's happening even as we speak.

Joseph Pace: Okay. And what's your health tip? 

Tom Rando: Well, again, it's what your mother taught you, diet and exercise. So, eat less and run more.

Joseph Pace: And Joon Yun, what do you see next? You're the visionary at this table along with the others, but you're putting the money here out there. What do you see is coming up? 

Joon Yun: I try to expand my dynamic range. So, I wanna maximize my resilience, so I intentionally put myself out there in extremes. So, I don't just eat vegan, I eat a bag of Doritos once a month to make sure I can maximize my range. [chuckle] I intermix meditation with severe exercise. I try to stay out in warm and cold temperatures. I'm trying to do the opposite of what the world...does, which is a narrower range. I want to go expand it."