Convincing the Public that Treating Aging as a Medical Condition is a Realistic Prospect

Over longer timescales involving large-scale funding, meaningful progress only occurs in those lines of research and development that enjoy broad public support and understanding. While it is the case that small groups of philanthropists and visionaries are those who do the hard (and largely unacknowledged) work to create new possibilities, of those options, only those that are welcomed and desired by the masses are brought into reality. In the matter of rejuvenation therapies, we presently stand somewhere in an awkward transition phase in which the experts are largely convinced, but the public remains largely ignorant or skeptical. Given that the research community is resolved to build ways to treat aging as a medical condition, and a related biotech industry is forming, we'll see ever more examples of advocacy aimed at educating the public, in order to obtain support for bigger and broader programs that will advance the state of the art in this field of medicine.

It's not your imagination - the world is graying. In fact, by 2050, the global population age 65 and older is projected to nearly triple, to 1.5 billion. With this aging population, it will be more important than ever to reduce the burden of age-related disease. In the future, science will allow us to intervene in the aging process to make this a reality. It's imperative to keep our older population healthy and independent as long as possible. As this population grows, we'll need to provide help to increasing numbers of older people who are no longer independent. It will be a huge challenge for us as a society in the next 20 or 30 years.

Aging is a biological and physiological process like any other. We can learn how it works - how cells and molecules create what we see as "aging" in a person. Aging can be beautiful, but it is also the number-one risk factor or driver of most of the medical problems that we treat in adults: cancer, diabetes, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, cardiovascular disease, strokes, and heart attacks. The crazy thing is we can manipulate the aging process. We can adjust it. We can treat it. None of this is science fiction anymore. It's all science fact, right up to the part where people are conducting clinical trials of drugs that treat complex health problems through targeting molecular aging mechanisms. In geroscience, we seek to understand the relationship between aging, disease, and quality of life. The promise of this field is that by intervening in the process of aging, we could slow, prevent, delay, or reduce the risk of all sorts of diseases - all at the same time.

When visiting your primary physician in 2050, you'll have your aging mechanism risk factors checked, and you'll probably have preventive treatments. For example, we'll treat your senescent (old, inactive) cells or your autophagy (the process by which your body removes old, damaged proteins). If something is amiss in your risk factors, then we'll make adjustments. It'll just become part of regular preventive medicine.


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