NYT and WSJ On Calorie Restriction Research

Both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal rolled out articles on calorie restriction research today; more than that, they are representive of the mainstreaming of the will to a gentle, slow, modest form of healthy life extension as pushed by the folk behind the Longevity Dividend proposal. The New York Times first:

Many scientists regard the study of life extension, once just a reliable plotline in science fiction, as a national priority. The number of Americans 65 and older will double in the next 25 years to about 72 million, according to government census data. By then, seniors will account for nearly 20 percent of the population, up from just 12 percent in 2003.

Earlier this year, four prominent gerontologists, among them Dr. Miller, published a paper calling for the government to spend $3 billion annually in pursuit of a modest goal: delaying the onset of age-related diseases by seven years.

Doing so, the authors asserted, would lay the foundation for a healthier and wealthier country, a so-called longevity dividend.

While in general I'm all for raising public awareness of any plasticity of the human lifespan, we've all seen the objections to the Longevity Dividend; it is unambitious and slow, setting the bar so low that the target gains will probably happen anyway. It is the sort of lowest common denominator big tent approach that gets politicians to spend tax dollars on inefficient ways forward while ignoring the real possibilities of doing far better.

As I've pointed out in the past, the stage is being set for the same sort of conflict that occurred in nanotechnology in recent years. On the one hand, you have the larger group of moderates who support a slowing of aging via understanding and manipulating metabolic processes. On the other side, a smaller group of engineers who support the reversal of aging by repairing known forms molecular damage. The moderates - who are chasing large sums of public money from the government - may come to feel they must defend their inferior path against people with better plans and more ambitious targets. The nanotechnology fight was quite ugly; one can hope that it won't happen for healthy life extension science.

We all benefit when the atmosphere is one of friendly competition and may the best science win. At heart, the folk working on metabolic science have the right intentions:

“It’s a just big waste of talent and wisdom to have people die in their 60s and 70s,” said Dr. Sinclair of Harvard.

And just as big a waste in any following decade. Hopefully more people will come to see that in the years ahead - if 10 extra years, why not 20, or 30, or more? There is no age at which it is anything other than a tragedy that people suffer and die, with no help nor rescue.

But on to the WSJ piece, which - sadly - requires registration. A few interesting quotes:

A company that Dr. Sinclair co-founded in 2004, Sirtris Pharmaceuticals Inc., of Cambridge, MA, has begun testing a resveratrol-based drug in diabetic patients. It has raised $82 million from venture capitalists, a hefty sum for an early-stage biotech.


It faces competition from Elixir Pharmaceuticals Inc., also based in Cambridge, which Dr. Sinclair's former mentor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology biologist Leonard Guarente, co-founded in 1999 to develop drugs based on gene variants that slow aging. The niche also includes BioMarker Pharmaceuticals of Campbell, CA, and LifeGen Technologies of Madison, WI, both of which focus on mimicking CR with drugs.

The companies hope to develop therapies for diseases, not antiaging pills. One reason is that the Food and Drug Administration doesn't recognize aging as a problem warranting treatment. But if a drug could retard aging, it might delay the onset and possibly the progression of age-related diseases. "When you slow aging," says University of Illinois epidemiologist S. Jay Olshansky, "you push a host of diseases to later ages at one fell swoop -- cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, diabetes, as well as everything else that's negative about growing older."

The FDA issue makes my blood boil; it so distorts the entire process of funding, research and development that no meaningful non-philanthropic funding will be dedicated to directly attacking the problem of aging. This is not even to get into the ongoing disaster that government intervention has made of medical research in the US. High prices, forgone opportunities, vanishing investment. Such is the end result of repressive regulation.

If telomerase inhibitors were a new kind of computer chip, they would have been on every Wal-Mart pharmacy shelf and selling for ten dollars a bottle by now. ... In a free system, life insurance companies, consumer magazines, and other competing interests would provide medical databases. Maybe even the AMA would become a force for "truth-in-medicine," as it was to some degree before the creation of the FDA. Under common law but free of arbitrary regulation, drug development would be as fast as computer development. Cancer would be extinct and human beings would finally, really, own their own bodies.

But back to the WSJ piece; I think you'll find this interesting:

Dr. Sinclair later got another call from Mr. LoGiudice, this time inviting him to make a pitch for funding to one of Mr. Rasnow's wealthy acquaintances, Paul Glenn, a venture capitalist and a longtime supporter of research on aging. After Dr. Sinclair did so, the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research in Santa Barbara, CA, awarded $5 million to Harvard Medical School to launch a center on the basic mechanisms of aging with Dr. Sinclair as its founding director. Now plans are afoot to expand the center into a leading institute on aging, says Mr. Glenn, with start-up funding of $[75 - 100] million.

You should head over to the Paul F. Glenn Laboratories for the Biological Mechanisms of Aging and take a look; seems it'll be getting much bigger fairly soon.

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Surely, the most important thing is to start the stampede. No bureaucrat will be able to stand in front of the thundering herd once people realize that ageing is a medical problem, not a "stage of life". An anti-ageing drug that just adds another 20 years would probably be enough. The public will simply demand the FDA stands aside - with rioting in the street if necessary.

Posted by: Julian Morrison at October 31st, 2006 8:13 AM

I'm not sad at all that FDA isn't throwing money at it. If venture capitalists are interested (and they see nothing in stem cell research), then it has great possibilities. Let's let the market find the way, and later perhaps the gov't can build some levees below sea level.

Meanwhile, have a glass of red wine.

Posted by: Norma at November 2nd, 2006 12:53 PM

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