Beating death – advances in healthtech
The latest developments in medicine and healthtech will soon allow for completely new therapies to treat a whole range of diseases, some of which were considered until now to be fatal. Will our lifespan soon increase? Can we really beat death?
Longevity and immortality remain one of the oldest dreams of mankind. In 1546 German painter Lucas Cranach beautifully expressed this desire in his painting The Fountain of Youth and in 1986 Freddie Mercury sang "Who wants to live forever?" Sadly, only five years later he lost his life to AIDS. HIV/AIDS until not long ago was untreatable but today if treated appropriately can be managed and lived with. This is just one example of the progress of modern medicine. But what if we could go further?…. Much further.
At the 23rd Credit Suisse Salon, which recently brought together some of the world's most prominent experts, investors and philanthropists, we met with three experts in the field of healthcare to discuss human longevity. Not only did we want to know how human life is being furthered but also what the consequences might be.
Stopping degeneration – what is possible now
Degenerative diseases are common and becoming more prevalent as populations age. Dr. Matthias Steger, founder and CEO of Endogena Therapeutics, uses small molecules to intervene in our body's own endogenous progenitor cells and ultimately repair and regenerate tissues. The current focus is on the eye to regenerate photoreceptors and retinal pigment epiphelium cells to prevent people from losing their sight. However, stem cell therapies could soon be applied to other degenerative diseases: for example muscle or bone degenerative conditions like osteoarthritis, but also for hearing and sight loss and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's or Parkinson's.
Lifespan and healthspan
We are currently moving from treating the diseases caused by aging like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's to treating the unitary disease of aging from which all these stem, says Jim Mellon, Chairman of Juvenescence Limited, philanthropist and healthcare investor. He believes that people will soon be able to reach 110 or 120 years of age. Through bio-engineering we will be able to extend life but also our healthspan, the period in which we are free of major chronic diseases. Since the fertility rate is below the replacement rate, globally higher age will not contribute to the expansion of the global population, Mellon says. And if people are more robust until the day they die this will take pressure away from the social care and healthcare systems.
The ethical questions
The trend will clearly go in the direction of using the immune system and early prevention to keep people healthy, says Thomas Amrein, Credit Suisse. Thomas feels we should embrace getting older without forgetting the critical questions: How should we age in the future? What are the costs associated with aging? What makes sense and what does not? Watch Thomas' interview to find out more about where he sees the limits.
Beating death completely is not an option in the near term, but expanding our lifespan is. The progress in medicine and healthtech will allow for sophisticated therapies in the future that will increase our lifespan over time. However, in order not to lose control we will have to be vigilant and make sure we strike the right balance between the quantity and quality of life.