Another Sign of the Zeitgeist in Aging Research

The current mainstream position in aging research is still a silent majority who work on investigating aging only: no attempts to actually do anything about degenerative aging, only attempts at producing late-stage treatments for its consequences, the various named age-related diseases. The nascent new mainstream position is a research strategy based on attempts to slow aging and postpone age-related disease; this is in the process of gaining central and widespread support.

This is a step forward, but sadly it is still unlikely to produce meaningful results in terms of extended human life - though it will generate a far greater understanding of aging and metabolism at the detail level. Treatments to modestly slow aging will take decades to produce and become widely available, as it is a very challenging problem to safely alter the operation of our exceedingly complex evolved metabolic machinery: billions have gone into trying to replicate the most obvious beneficial metabolic shift, that of calorie restriction, and there is little to show for that yet.

The better path forward is to focus on repair of the damage that causes aging. That doesn't require any alteration to metabolism, but rather just addresses the known fundamental differences between old tissues and young tissues, one by one, until old becomes young. This is probably easier than metabolic manipulation, a great deal more is presently known about what needs to be done, and the resulting treatments will produce rejuvenation rather than just a slowing of aging. Still, this strategy is presently a minority position in the field, with little funding. That must change if we are to see meaningful progress in our lifetime.

Here is an example of the present zeitgeist of aging research and its intersection with medicine, illustrating the ascendance of the camp who want to slow aging over the old status quo of doing nothing and never talking about aging in the context of medicine:

"[Aging is] a huge economic problem that impacts the bottom line of corporations as well as governments, and every country we can think of," said Dr. William A. Haseltine, chairman and president of ACCESS Health International, who was a professor at Harvard Medical School and Harvard School of Public Health from 1976 to 1992. "Whether it's a country like Sweden that deals with health as a state issue, or the United States that deals with it more or less as a private issue, aging is hitting the bottom line and people are upset," said Dr. Haseltine.

So far, what the medical community has come up with is disappointing, noted several of the conference speakers. "At the moment, the current healthcare system is all about keeping people sick longer, not keeping people healthy," argued Dr. Brian K. Kennedy, CEO of Buck Institute of Aging, who is internationally known for his research in the basic biology of aging and whose focus is on translating research discoveries into new ways of detecting, preventing and treating age-related conditions. These conditions include Alzheimer's and Parkinson diseases. Cancer. Stroke, diabetes, and heart disease.

"We have to rethink how we do healthcare, and one of the ways is to extend people's health span and intervene early on to slow aging and prevent diseases," said Dr. Kennedy. To develop new approaches to alleviate aging-associated diseases in humans, Dr. Kennedy has been working to move discoveries from simple organism into mammalian animal models as quickly as possible.



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