The aging research community of today is a far cry from that of fifteen years ago. At that time, it was pretty close to career suicide to openly talk about aging as a medical condition amenable to treatment, or tackling the causes of aging to extend healthy life. Few people could get away with it, and those that were attempting to improve the field and open up the doors to clinical applications were largely doing so quietly in order to preserve their work. That sorry state of affairs had persisted for decades by that point, slowing down progress: scientists were not encouraging the view that treating aging was possible, archly conservative funding institutions made it clear there were no resources for that work, and there was no public pressure to see results because the public remained largely ignorant of the possibilities. It was a self-reinforcing deadlock, one that exists in many areas of potential improvement in technology, but here it was been particularly damaging because the cost of aging is so high: a hundred thousand lives lost every day, and countless more suffering from age-related diseases.
The sea change in aging research that has taken place between the turn of the century and today didn't happen by accident. It was the result of hard work and persistence on the part of numerous organizations and outspoken advocates within and without the scientific community. A number of those advocates, most notably Aubrey de Grey, were so horrified by the state of affairs in the aging community that they became scientists in order to try to set matters to rights. Many of us here have supported some of the organizations that helped to bring this all about, such as the Methuselah Foundation and SENS Research Foundation.
The results of all this work have been taking form over the past few years in the mainstream aging research community: plans and intent for the next decade of research strategy are becoming clear, and many more researchers are standing up to declare that treating aging is the way to go. Of course there are as many specific approaches as there are research groups, and nowhere near as many scientists as I'd like are jumping on the SENS bandwagon, but in many ways the most important change is that the voices of the community are now coming around to persuade the public and funding institutions that we should treat aging as the medical condition it is, and do something about it. At that point may the best approach win.
Here is an example that is much closer to the Longevity Dividend approach of modestly slowing aging than the SENS vision for rejuvenation through repair of the cellular damage that causes aging, but again it is progress to have this sort of open, public declaration of intent by noted researchers. It is a sign that we advocates will see a growing number of allies when it comes to convincing the remaining majority of the public that treating aging and extending healthy life is plausible, possible, and desirable.
Medicine focuses almost entirely on fighting chronic diseases in a piecemeal fashion as symptoms develop. Instead, more efforts should be directed to promoting interventions that have the potential to prevent multiple chronic diseases and extend healthy lifespans. Researchers say that by treating the metabolic and molecular causes of human aging, it may be possible to help people stay healthy into their 70s and 80s. A trio of aging experts calls for moving forward with preclinical and clinical strategies that have been shown to delay aging in animals. In addition to promoting a healthy diet and regular exercise, these strategies include slowing the metabolic and molecular causes of human aging, such as the incremental accumulation of cellular damage that occurs over time.
The researchers, at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Brescia University in Italy, the Buck Institute for Aging and Research and the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California, write that economic incentives in biomedical research and health care reward treating disease more than promoting good health. "You don't have to be a mathematician or an economist to understand that our current health care approach is not sustainable. As targeting diseases has helped people live longer, they are spending more years being sick with multiple disorders related to aging, and that's expensive."
It's been difficult to capitalize on research advances to stall aging in people. Most clinicians don't realize how much already is understood about the molecular mechanisms of aging and their link to chronic diseases. And scientists don't understand precisely how the drugs that affect aging pathways work. The time is right for moving forward with preclinical and clinical trials of the most promising findings from animal studies. But challenges abound. The most important change is in mindset. Economic incentives in biomedical research and health care reward treating diseases more than promoting good health. "But public money must be invested in extending healthy lifespan by slowing aging. Otherwise, we will founder in a demographic crisis of increased disability and escalating health care costs."