In Search of Immortality: The Political Economy of Anti-aging Medicine

Abstract

Anti-aging medicine is characterised by significant ‘hype’, hope and promise. This article examines the conditions giving rise to and sustaining this field. It questions its key premises, highlights the politico-economic ‘drivers’ of its innovations, and identifies the key actor networks sustaining its practices. As the article argues, it is highly questionable whether the viability of anti-aging medicine can be sustained as a discrete field of practice in the longer term. The instability of this field stems from its reliance on a faulty epistemological premise: that aging is a disease requiring technological intervention. In addition, anti-aging medicine is dependent on a series of fragile links and destabilising tendencies that threaten its long-term future. As sweeping promises regarding the ‘revolutionary’ potential of anti-aging medicine are made, financial, industry, government and public support becomes ever more contingent upon those utopian promises being realised. For reasons we discuss, this may not be possible. The article concludes by exploring the future of anti-aging medicine, highlighting a number of potential alternative scenarios.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    http://www.mrc.ac.uk/Ourresearch/priorities/index.htm; accessed 9 March 2009.

  2. 2.

    http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/funding/priorities.html; accessed 9 March 2009.

  3. 3.

    http://www.bbsrc.ac.uk/science/topical/ageing.html; accessed 9 March 2009.

  4. 4.

    http://www.nia.nih.gov/AboutNIA/; accessed 21 March 2009.

  5. 5.

    In this context, ‘medicalisation’ refers to the practice whereby ordinary processes of the body (such as menstruation, menopause or aging) come to be re-defined by the medical profession as ‘medical problems’ warranting professional analysis and treatment (Nettleton 1995, p. 27), rather than in the sense scholars such as Conrad (1992) use the term, to describe the process of framing deviant behaviours (such as homosexuality) in medical terms.

  6. 6.

    http://www.worldhealth.net/pages/a4m_s_mission; accessed 23 February 2009.

  7. 7.

    http://www.worldhealthnet.tv; accessed 23 February 2009.

  8. 8.

    For example, at least one researcher profiled in an article about the anti-aging enterprise, written by Abraham (2009), insisted that all profits made by a company he founded be put back into clinical research.

  9. 9.

    This is not necessarily a new phenomenon; indeed, as Haber (2004) notes, there is evidence of some physicians making considerable financial gain from anti-ageing treatments in the early twentieth century.

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Petersen, A., Seear, K. In Search of Immortality: The Political Economy of Anti-aging Medicine. Medicine Studies 1, 267 (2009). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12376-009-0020-x

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Keywords

  • Anti-aging medicine
  • Aging
  • Biotechnology
  • Pharmaceutical industry
  • Politico-economic ‘drivers’
  • ‘Grey market’