Here is little more press for the Palo Alto Longevity Prize, which will make awards for the extension of healthy life in mammals based on heart rate variability as a measure of physiological aging. Aside from all the normal networking and influence effects produced by research prizes, and this one will certainly boost the growing Bay Area community of longevity advocates and researchers, the initiative should go some way towards validating or invalidating the use of measures such as heart rate variability as a biomarker of aging. Independently of progress towards ways to intervene in the aging process, the development of good biomarkers to measure physiological age is very important. How else to evaluate any proposed rejuvenation therapy in a reasonable amount of time? Without biomarkers, the only things you can do are guess or wait: running full life span studies is very expensive even in mice, and never mind in longer-lived species. Anything that makes rigorous research more expensive slows down progress, and should be targeted for improvement.
As the sponsor of the million-dollar Palo Alto Longevity Prize, Joon Yun, M.D., knows that with each passing week, a million additional people will die around the globe, and the majority of them will die because of aging-related diseases. Dr. Yun, who thinks about aging research as a race against time, is a medical doctor and president of Palo Alto Investors, an investment management firm with more than $1 billion invested in healthcare. What he saw led him to wonder if aging wasn't just an accumulation of diseases, but rather, a process. He wondered if instead of trying to treat individual diseases in a whack-a-mole type approach, could we instead look for upstream switches that could prevent or resolve aging?
The questions was, how could he contribute? Calling on his undergraduate background in biology at Harvard, Dr. Yun decided to use the same model that evolution does. Evolution operates through the production of variation and from many possibilities, selects winners. He learned about the power of incentive prizes to nurture innovations and decided to apply it as a tool for aging research. In Dr. Yun's view, the current healthcare system, which treats the symptoms of aging, but not its underlying cause, helps individuals live longer. But there are two flaws with this approach. The first is, the longer individuals live, the more healthcare they consume, leading to feed-forward increases in costs. The second flaw is that aging remains a terminal disease.
Dr. Yun and the scientific advisors of the Palo Alto Longevity Prize are looking at aging from a more fundamental perspective. They realized that aging, if you go deep enough, is an unraveling of homeostatic capacity. A young man, who in his 20s had both healthy blood pressure and healthy blood sugar, may find that in his 50s, his eroding homeostatic capacity no longer effectively regulates these functions and now has hypertension and diabetes. Therefore, Dr. Yun and his team elected to focus on improving homeostatic capacity as a way to improve health, and improving health as a way to improve longevity.