People are very good at not thinking about the personal inevitability of aging and age-related disease. We all know what happens to the aged. It happens to those we know and care about. It is no big secret that aging causes pain, suffering, and death on a vast scale. Yet here we stand, you and I, consumed by the minutiae of day to day life, in which from moment to moment we put little thought into our future state of frailty and loss of dignity. Across a long history of being unable to greatly influence aging, and the pain and death it causes, this ability to put aside foreknowledge has proven a great strength. It let individuals work and prosper and build despite knowing all too well what was coming down the line. We live in a society of wealth and technology enabled by the toil of our ancestors, the majority of whom suffered and died because of aging.
And now? This talent for looking anywhere but ahead is killing us. What has changed? Medical technology. Unlike every past generation, we stand within reach of means to control and indefinitely delay the aging process. Aging is damage to cells and tissues, and for each of those types of damage researchers can envisage in detail at least one development program to produce a means of repair. The cost of getting to working prototypes in mice for all of these is probably in the vicinity of $1-2 billion spread over 10-20 years, not all that different from the amounts of time and money required to run a single drug candidate through the present regulatory process.
Yet to a first approximation this development isn't happening. Only a tiny amount of funding is presently devoted towards the development of means to repair the causes of aging and thus indefinitely postpone disease and death. There is little support among the public at large for such a goal, little awareness that any work is ongoing, or that there is the potential to strike out for great gains in health and longevity. Indeed there is little thought at all on the topic of medicine to treat and control the processes of aging, the root cause of so much pain and suffering for the old. Ignoring aging is no longer a good thing: it has now become a terrible strategy that is costing lives and costing health.
Ask someone you know today "do you want to suffer Alzheimer's disease?" Or heart disease. Or cancer. The answer is probably no. But why are they not doing something about it? Do they think it is out of their hands? None of their business? Or is it more a case of lapsing back into the daily grind wherever possible, avoiding uncomfortable existential thoughts about the future? The cancer and stem cell research establishments are examples of what should exist for aging: a research community of great size and vigor, aiming to extinguish disease and prevent disability. But it doesn't exist yet for aging, and the behavior of the people you know in response to these questions has a lot to do with that state of affairs. At the large scale and in the long term medical research funding follows the desire of the public. That 10-20 year countdown for treatments to prevent and reverse aging doesn't start at least the first shards of a massive research community do exist.
This is why we advocate and donate. So much is left to be done, and people are suffering and dying in vast numbers each and every day. This is why there must be people of vision leading the way, philanthropists of all stripes and means funding early stage research to bring greater attention to the best paths forward. The bootstrapping of the next generation of medical research for aging, the programs that will ultimately bring an end to all age-related disease, starts with us as much as with the researchers who see clearly enough to put forward their detailed plans in search of support and funding. We hold up the torch and guide the way, helping to bring greater resources to the research that deserves that support.