"If aging is seen as a disease, it changes how we respond to it. For example, it becomes the duty of doctors to treat it," said David Gems, a biogerontologist who spoke at a conference on aging in London last week called "Turning Back the Clock."
At the moment, drug companies and scientists keen to develop their research on aging into tangible results are hampered by regulators in the United States and Europe who will license medicines only for specific diseases, not for something as general as aging.
"Because aging is not viewed as a disease, the whole process of bringing drugs to market can't be applied to drugs that treat aging. This creates a disincentive to pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs to treat it," said Gems.
As you might already know, whether or not aging is called a disease has very little to do with words and definitions, and a great deal to do with money and regulation. Unelected officials of organizations like the FDA in the United States cause untold harm to progress in medical science by (a) placing huge and unnecessary burdens upon research and development, and (b) forbidding outright commercial application for any purpose or disease that is not in their list. It can take a decade - and millions of dollars in the formalized bribery known as lobbying - for a new discovery, new classification, or new form of therapy to be recognized by regulators. Or even longer, as is the case for aging.
A world without the FDA would be a far better place, in which progress was faster and the breadth of medical development far greater. The death toll of those who wait in vain for new and more effective therapies would be greatly reduced, and the engines of free market competition turned to building new medical miracles. But sadly we do not live in that world - it lies somewhere beyond the next revolution, or perhaps beyond the next great open frontier.