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Is Longevity actually just Replacing Aging?

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Jean Hébert’s new book argues that regenerative medicine is the key to Longevity.

Professor Jean Hébert trained as a molecular geneticist, obtaining his PhD from University of California, San Francisco. He then specialised in the study of how neural stem cells form the brain (at Stanford University) and is now a Professor of Neuroscience and Genetics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, where he is developing ways to use replacement cells to repair and rejuvenate the brain.

Longevity.Technology: Advances in regenerative medicine are quickly coming closer to allowing us to replace all our old cells, tissues, and organs with pristine new ones, and a variety of different approaches are being used to achieve this end. Published today, Jean Hébert’s new book argues that extending lifespan indefinitely lies not in the current approaches undertaken by the anti-aging field, but instead in regenerative medicine, and that Longevity researchers and investors should “get their act together” and focus their efforts. OK then.

Ahead of the book’s publication, and ahead of his presentation on Cell Transplantation for Neocortical Repair – Clues on How to Get There at Neurotech2020, we caught up with Professor Hébert to discuss his perspective on Longevity and defeating aging. We started by asking him what sparked his interest in Longevity as a field.

 


 

“… I wanted to be a molecular biologist working on longevity before I even knew that the words ‘molecular biology’ and ‘longevity’ existed.”

 


 

“I was a bit of a weird kid growing up,” he told us. “I realized at a young age, in early elementary school in fact, that we are biological machines and that even if we stay healthy, we will eventually break down with time. I didn’t like this and wanted to do something about it, so I knew I wanted to be a molecular biologist working on longevity before I even knew that the words “molecular biology” and “longevity” existed. Then in high school, I started reading on my own everything I could about how we function at a molecular level.”

Professor Jean Hérbert, author of Replacing Aging.
Professor Jean Hébert, author of Replacing Aging.

It’s this love of Longevity that has led Hébert to write Replacing Aging, a book he says which is for “anyone and everyone who loves life and wants to live longer than their current life expectancy.” There is a fair amount of basic biology included, but Hébert has tried to make it accessible to all readers, not just scientists. An important point for Hébert is that his readers should understand that macromolecular damage is a key concern in attempting to reverse aging.

“Macromolecular damage is aging, at least from a biologist’s perspective,” he explains. “Any other definition such as motor, immune, cognitive performance, for example can lead to claims of rejuvenation while the actual process of macromolecular and cellular decay proceeds without hinderance. This is an important point in the book because many in the aging field use only indirect markers of aging and are open to misinterpretation and false claims.”

Longevity.Technology has covered artificial organs, those grown in the lab or in the body, 3D-bioprinted organs, organoids and xenotransplantation. Given the raft of options, Professor Hébert thinks a combination of therapies for an effective extended lifespan is the most likely outcome.

“Certain body parts can already be replaced with remarkably functional synthetic ones such as legs and hearts,” he says, “while other body parts because of their more complex functions will more likely, at least at first, be replaced with lab grown biological ones.”

Of course, as a neuroscientist, certain discoveries really excite Professor Hébert.

“I’m all about the brain, because I believe that our brains are who we are,” he explains.

“The two discoveries that most excite me are an old one and a new one. The old discovery is that the brain is an amazingly plastic substrate – meaning if you give it enough time, functions even as complex as language can move from one part of it to another without any noticeable interruption in function.

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“The new discovery is that immature damage-free brain cells when transplanted into old brains can integrate into existing neural circuits. These two discoveries together indicate that brain rejuvenation by replacement will in the near future be possible.”

 


 

“The more interest there is in longevity, the faster progress will be made … people don’t realize how close we are getting to succeeding in reversing aging.”

 


 

Hébert acknowledges that there is a role for a wider community of longevity enthusiasts and that change in opinion is starting to happen.

“The more interest there is in longevity, the faster progress will be made,” he says. “I think the only thing holding back a wider community is that people don’t realize how close we are getting to succeeding in reversing aging.

“People’s attitudes overall are slowly changing and they are at least considering that at some point we will defeat aging. Certainly, success in halting or reversing aging, when it first happens, will elicit a dramatic change in attitudes. However, we should not be naïve in thinking that everyone will embrace it – a large fraction of the population will at least for a while remain resistant to the idea of life-extension even when presented with the real possibility of extending their own lives.

“But this initial resistance has been the case for most technological innovations throughout history, from automobiles to organ transplants. But in the end, these innovations become commonplace and broadly accepted.”

 


 

“Letting people die of aging and age-related diseases when we could save them seems unethical, especially when there are other potential solutions to dealing with the possible woes of increased population size.”

 


 

Hébert believes it would be timely to begin implementing policy changes to make rejuvenation technologies a regular part of healthcare coverage for everyone, but acknowledges that in order for this to happen, a majority of the population would need to be onboard and some objections overcome.

“I’ve heard all sorts of arguments against increasing lifespan, which have all been effectively rebutted by others who are more qualified than me in arguing the pros and cons of life extension,” he says. “Overpopulation is certainly one of the more common arguments against increasing lifespan. I would say that letting people die of aging and age-related diseases when we could save them seems unethical, especially when there are other potential solutions to dealing with the possible woes of increased population size.”

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Professor Hébert plans to continue his research on cell and tissue replacements for the brain, as he believes this is the cornerstone to defeating aging in our lifetime.

Replacing Aging is published by Science Unbound and is available as both ebook and paperback.

Images courtesy of Professor Jean Hébert
Eleanor Garth
Deputy Editor Now a science and medicine journalist, Eleanor worked as a consultant for university spin-out companies and provided research support at Imperial College London and various London hospitals in a former life.
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