The recent Nature journal special edition is dedicated completely to the problem of aging. Among various articles covering topics from demographics to comparative biology and robots, there’s one about the interventions in the aging processes. It is a nice overview about the current successes in slowing down aging in mammals, however I found the last paragraph rather disappointing. It says….
Ageing isn’t a disease, and lifespan extension will be almost impossible to prove in humans.
These are the words of the NIA officials and some of the scientists. Aging is not considered to be a disease at the moment. There is no such indication as aging, therefore one can’t register a geroprotector drug, the one that slows down aging. This is one of the major hurdles in aging research. Even though there are some substances that are proven to slow down aging and protect from diseases, researchers can’t make drugs from these substances. This has to be changed if we want to live longer and healthier. I think it’s horrible that the NIA people are propagating this idea that aging is not a disease. They are rejecting the opportunity with their own hands. If they fought for persuading the healthcare officials to accept aging as a disease, a lot of problems would be gone instantly.
Firstly, it would be much easier to get grants for aging research. Now everyone has to come up with the potential impact on treating the pathologies like cancer and diabetes, but once aging is recognized to be a disease, it would be much easier to apply to funding.
Secondly, research would be more effective, all the scientists now working on separate age-related diseases wouldn’t need to shift their attention from the actual cause, they would be able to focus on the aging processes with no harm to the future funding opportunities.
Lastly, there will be aging doctors in the clinic. Right now one can’t come to the hospital and say, “doctor, I’ve got a problem, I am aging.” People would laugh at such a patient, however this is the best kind of patient, the smartest one, one who cares about his future and wants to prevent the upcoming illnesses and frailty. Most importantly, there is a way to help patients like that. the article says “lifespan extension will be almost impossible to prove in humans.” I believe this is wrong. The right panel of aging biomarkers will do the trick. Yes, the panel will be huge, we would need to monitor a lot of parameters (proteomic, transcriptomic, metabolomic data, etc.), watch the dynamics, but after some time of monitoring, we’ll be able to prevent diseases and make truthful predictions regarding the rate of aging of a particular person. It has already been shown. Read the story of Michael Snyder from Stanford University who was able to track the onset of his type 2 diabetes and treat it, way before the traditional diagnostics could detect the illness.
Glass, Sierra and others hope that research on ageing interventions will change the way we think about disease and drug development, and lead to treatments that tackle multiple age-related diseases at once. Major causes of death worldwide, including cancer and cardiovascular disease, share a common risk factor: age. Tackling one disease at a time isn’t working, says the NIA’s de Cabo. “Ageing is the leading risk factor for all chronic diseases,” he says. “Postpone ageing, and you postpone these diseases.”
Dr. de Cabo is right, however it is absolutely not clear to me how these researchers are going to change the existing attitude without making aging recognized as a disease. I believe it’s NIA that has to be the leader in persuading the government to change the nomenclature and include aging in the list of diseases. Instead, they are hiding their heads in the sand. And in the meantime we are not getting any younger.
Maria Konovalenko is a molecular biophysicist and the program coordinator for the Science for Life Extension Foundation. She earned her M.Sc. degree in Molecular Biological Physics at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology.
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