An anti-agathic is a drug which retards and/or reverses the aging process, either restoring lost (physical) youth to the user or at least keeping them at their current biological age for longer. An anti-agathic prevents or undoes senescence.
This has been something of a holy grail for humanity for as long as anyone can remember - probably at least since we became conscious that we aged and then discovered that some of the conditions that afflicted us were treatable. If we could cure some diseases, why not all of them - and if all of them, why not aging as well?
For a long time anti-agathics have been in the realm of magic, religion and general speculation. The ambrosia of the Hellenic Pantheon and the Soma of the Hindu deities were both occasionally said to grant eternal youth, as were the waters of the Fountain of Youth and various other springs, plants, animals and such. Alchemy held forth the promise of either the Panacea or the Elixir Vitae being the key to eternal youth and various other forms of magic were also said to help - eternal youth (or at least, youth lasting for the duration of their pact) was often said to be part of the bargains struck by witches with their infernal patrons. For those of a more moral bent, spending time in the company of their Creator seems to have extended the lifespans of various biblical patriarchs. Looking ahead, many writers of sci-fi have pinned their hopes on super-science to retard or reverse aging.
In the modern era, extended, if not eternal youth, seems to lie less in the field of pharmacology and more in that of cellular biology. As far as anyone can tell, aging (at least at a cellular level) is governed by the efficiency of an enzyme called telomerase which is responsible for the safekeeping of a cell's genetic material as it divides1. Current theory is that improving the function of this enzyme should greatly slow our aging - and a few species such as water bears and hydrae already appear to have mastered this trick. Analysis of their telomerase might well point us in the right direction. For more information, see senescence.
The next question being, are we really sure we want to do this? Quite apart from the "engineering" risks of buggering about with our basic cellular biology, there are all sorts of other things to consider. Folklore, after all, exists for a reason and pretty much every mythiea on the planet has cautionary tales about people who became immortal in some way or the other and lived to regret it - many legends show eternal life as more of a curse than a blessing, absent any extradimensional paradise in which to dwell. Even from a coldly administrative viewpoint, a society in which no-one aged would require draconian population controls and would be likely to stagnate aggressively without the natural turnover of people and ideas we have come to expect. Any culture that managed to transcend these issues would likely have earned itself the epithet "transhuman" and would be at best very different from anything that we currently understand.
Game and Story Use
- Anti-agathics are generally used to deliver some pretty anvilicious aesops, usually to do with lifespan being a zero sum game and added youth needing to be stolen from somewhere else.
- Dystopia (or even fairly realistic mesotopiae) are likely to feature anti-agathics that are only accessible by the rich and powerful, further increasing social disparaties.
- Cutting off the supply of an anti-agathic (perhaps to bring down an unaging tyrant) might have it's own drawbacks (possibly also killing off a large number of innocent neutrals or even "good guys" who also use it.
- Example from J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone: destroying the titular stone so that Voldemort cannot use it to accelerate his ressurrection also condemns the largely benevolent Nicholas Flamel and his wife to death by cutting of their supply of Elixir Vitae.