Last summer, California-based LifeStar Institute assembled a panel of leaders in the science of aging to ask them the question at the core of their research. How far can the potential of new biomedical therapies to slow, arrest, or even reverse the damage of aging be brought to bear against the challenge of global graying?
I was honored to be brought into the midst of this remarkable assembly of scientists, who include some of the biggest names in biogerontology: names like Dr. Judith Campisi, Dr. Caleb “Tuck” Finch, SENS Foundation Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Aubrey de Grey, Dr. George Martin, and the legendary (and now, sadly, stolen from the living) Dr. Robert Butler. This is a group with a wide range of expertise and opinions within the biogerontology community, who have had strong disagreements in the past and who engaged in vigorous and stimulating debate during the meeting. But as our discussions matured, a remarkable consensus began to emerge, with the meeting ending in excitement and a sense of quiet triumph. When these experts weighed the promise of the scientific advances of recent years against the global challenge that lies before us, they came to a series of remarkable conclusions. And the most important of those conclusions was this: that an aggressive program of investment to realize that potential is not only justified, but necessary.
The conclusions of this meeting are laid out in broad detail in the ensuing meeting report: “The Demographic and Biomedical Case for Late-Life Interventions in Aging,” which has just been published in the journal Science: Translational Medicine. The headline: Aggressive biomedical research investments in new medicines to slow, arrest, and reverse the degenerative aging process are needed to turn a looming worldwide social calamity into an opportunity for a global renaissance of healthy longevity.
There is a purely moral and humanitarian case to be made for this, to be sure: the suffering and death attributable to the degenerative aging process causes enormous human suffering, in age-related disease, disability, dependence, dementia, and death. But now there is a new global social imperative as well. We stand at a cusp of an unique demographic transition. For the first time in human history, the whole planet is aging: within a few decades, people that have been made sick, dependent, or unproductive by the damage of aging will outnumber the young and healthy. The diseases of aging will rob the world of some of our most productive citizens, and rapidly drive up the cost of healthcare and the budgets for public and private pensions. Given “aging as usual,” the sheer size of the aging generation sets the stage for global economic catastrophe.
In the face of this crisis, the experts concluded, the full translation of what is known in the laboratory or foreseeable from existing biomedical developments about the damage of aging and what can be done about it into the first real “anti-aging medicines” is our best hope.
The report highlights three key approaches to the challenge that must all be met to meet the goal of maintaining the health and productivity of today’s generations: (1) expand public health measures to help citizens avoid suffering prematurely from age-related disease; (2) develop new medicines that boost the body’s ability to maintain health and productivity longer by slowing down the degenerative aging process; and (3) use the principles of regenerative engineering, the special focus of SENS Foundation, to create therapies that remove, replace, repair, and neutralize the cellular and molecular damage that accumulates in aging bodies, and thus restore youthful structure and function to the tissues and lives of aging citizens.
And to meet that goal, the report is a call for dramatic, targeted investments by the National Institutes on Health (NIH) and other public and private biomedical research organizations to bring forward new therapies against the degenerative aging process.
The time has come. The science is ready, and the need is already growing, with every aging American boomer and with the equivalent generations coming behind all over the world: in China, and in India, in Africa, in South America, and in the Middle East. The report is a call for dramatic, targeted investments by the National Institutes on Health (NIH) and other public and private biomedical research organizations to bring forward new therapies against the degenerative aging process.
“In the case of late-life intervention in human age-related degeneration, what we can be certain of today is that a policy of “aging as usual” will lead to enormous humanitarian, social, and financial costs. Efforts to avert that scenario are unequivocally merited, even if those efforts are costly and their success and full consequences uncertain. To realize any chance of success, the drive to tackle biological aging head-on must begin now.”(1)
1. The Demographic and Biomedical Case for Late-Life Interventions in Aging. Michael J. Rae, Robert N. Butler, Judith Campisi, Aubrey D. N. J. de Grey, Caleb E. Finch, Michael Gough, George M. Martin, Jan Vijg, Kevin M. Perrott, and Barbara J. Logan. Science Translational Medicine. 14 July 2010: 40cm21.