In the long sweep of human history, there has never been an age in which advocacy could have made as big a difference as advocacy for aging research can make today. The scientific community stands at the gates of rejuvenation, of the effective medical control over the causes of aging. The forms of cell and tissue damage that distinguish old tissues from young tissues are cataloged. The consensus position in the research community is that accumulation of this damage causes aging. Rejuvenation therapies capable of repairing, preventing, or working around the damage of aging are not in the clinic yet, but are at various stages of development, from early clinical trials and development in startup companies, all the way back down the chain to research in progress with years of work left to accomplish. The wave is building up, but despite the promise, despite the goal of controlling the medical condition of aging, a condition that kills more than 100,000 people every day, there is very little interest and very little funding for this branch of medical science.
This is why we live in an age in which advocacy has such power. The science of aging and the plans to build effective treatments stand far, far ahead of the public perception, the funding, and the will to treat aging as a medical condition. Aging is natural, people say - but so is cancer, cancer is caused by aging, and you'd be hard pressed to find someone who thinks that cancer research should be halted. The choice to defeat cancer rather than treating it as set in stone, a part of life not subject to change, is the very same choice that our culture has yet to make regarding aging. Until the average person in the street, when asked about preventing aging so as to live longer in good health, has exactly the same response as is presently the case for cancer research, then progress towards the control of aging will remain slow and uncertain. If the aging research community had the same support and funding as stem cell science or cancer research, both energetic fields as a result of that support, then we would be solidly on our way towards an end to frailty, pain, and suffering in old age - an end to all age-related disease.
This has yet to happen, but it is only a matter of persuasion. The research, the scientists, the biotechnology industry are ready to productively use high levels of funding to finalize prototype rejuvenation therapies and take the results into clinics around the world. That funding and the support it requires are all that is missing. Thus advocacy - simple persuasion - can today change the world, change the very nature of the human condition, can save billions of lives, can rescue the frail and the sick, and prevent the healthy from becoming frail and sick. Progress in the medicine of rejuvenation is limited by funding, and fixing that problem requires nothing more than widespread agreement that these goals are worthwhile and desirable. At the large scale and over the long term of decades research priorities follow the will of the masses, the zeitgeist of the age. We need to change ours for the better.
At present a growing faction within our advocacy community believes that engaging with government and international bodies such as the World Health Organization (WHO) is an effective path to this end. The goal is to sway standards and regulatory bodies to declare aging to be a disease, and thus amplify the views of this community through the megaphones of these large agencies:
100,000 people die every day from age-related diseases - i.e. those deadly diseases (cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease), the risk of which increases with age in geometric progression due to a number of already known biological processes, which are collectively called "aging". Aging transforms active citizens from people who are benefiting society into people requiring state resources to maintain their ailing health. State budget losses include payments for the treatment of age-related diseases, social costs of care for the disabled, budget shortfalls due to tax losses from tax on personal income, etc. The bulk of the costs of medical care falls on the last years of life, therefore, prolonging the health years of citizens will allow to use available funds to address other socially important tasks. It is also hard to overestimate the social benefits from additional healthy years of life of older people, which they can devote to useful social activities or to education and care for their grandchildren.
The latest developments in medical and biological sciences have led to a paradigm shift where aging is now known to be a combination of pathogenic and harmful processes, the intensity of which increases with age. Moreover, recent discoveries show that these processes can be slowed down or even reversed. For example, caloric restriction alone increased maximum lifespan in mice by 40%; pharmacological interventions achieved an increase in lifespan by almost a third. Almost every year science is finding new animals (in 2016 - more than twenty), that exhibit a so-called "phenomenon of negligible senescence", meaning that the probability of death and age-related diseases of these animals, unlike humans, does not increase with age, providing them with healthy longevity and a much longer life expectancy than those of species closest to them. Moreover, scientists have already discovered dozens of drugs and other interventions that are able to extend healthy life expectancy and maximum lifespan in different animals, delaying the onset of age-related diseases and deaths associated with them. The need for a significant increase in aging research and intervention capacity against it to prevent age-related diseases and increase healthy life expectancy is also recognized by the international scientific community and even formed the basis for the signing of the Open Letter on Aging Research by 57 of the world's leading scientists.
An understanding of aging as a disease is gradually entering into the global health discourse. Today, deep old age (senility) is recognized as a disease by the WHO. However, recognizing the above late-stage manifestations of aging does not resolve the underlying problem of aging. Aging as a set of reversible disease processes begins at a relatively early age and requires specific approaches to combat (control, treat, compensate) from the early stages of its development. Aging is a global phenomenon, and the fight against it requires special medical and biological approaches, as well as government support. This corresponds to subjective factors (the degree of scientific understanding of aging processes and the methods of control and control), and objective factors - both of medical and biological nature and those related to the economy and the sociology of healthcare.
We should begin an open dialog on whether age-related pathologies should be formally classified as a disease - and not just recognized nationally, but also internationally within the framework of WHO's ICD-11, as such classification is a prerequisite for substantially increasing worldwide government funding dedicated to finding successful treatments for age-related pathologies - treatments that would greatly increase healthy lifespans. We can start by engaging our governments on where science is today in its understanding of what biological mechanisms cause age-related diseases and how we can fix them, and then hold public debates on whether there is enough scientific evidence to begin the process of classifying aging as a disease. The next step could be an establishment of a National Strategy for Life Extension and a dedicated task force responsible for the coordination of scientific and practical efforts aimed at increasing longevity and fighting aging. The world already knows successful precedents where some countries are mobilizing the international scientific community for the development of therapies for a variety of diseases.
It is an absolute certainty that eventually humanity will conquer aging, just as it had conquered a host of previously terminal diseases thanks to vaccines and antibiotics. But if we want the victory over aging to happen before it is too late for our loved ones, the time to act is now.