Experts Say Slowing Aging Is Way to Fight Diseases in 21st Century
[Writer] This is research news from U-I-C – the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Today, Jay Olshansky, professor of epidemiology, talks about his recent manuscript on BMJ.com. The manuscript suggests the best strategy for preventing and fighting a multitude of diseases in the 21st century is to focus on slowing the biological processes of aging.
Here’s professor Olshansky:
[Olshansky] We’re basically arguing that research in the field of aging has progressed so rapidly in the last couple of decades that many researchers believe we can slow the biological process of aging in people, as we have already successfully done in animals.
The reason why this is important is if indeed we can slow the biological process of aging in people, like we have in other species, we have the potential to achieve something that has never been achieved before – and that is, to rather rapidly and dramatically improve the quality of life for existing generations that are approaching older ages and significantly improve the quality of life for all future generations of people who make it to older ages.
Now it’s important to realize that the current approach that is taken by the world of medicine today is what we refer to as the disease-specific approach, and that is, we focus on heart disease, we focus on cancer and we focus on Alzheimer’s. Of course, this is important and it’s been successful and it needs to continue. However, we’ve suggested that this disease-specific approach is going to run out of steam. That eventually, we’re only going to get relatively small returns on our investment in terms of quality of life, and certainly, we already know the returns in terms of length of life will be relatively small. But the way in which we can achieve significant gains, against all of these diseases simultaneously, is to go after the underlying risk factor for them all, which is the biological process of aging. In fact we’ve suggested that if we could even marginally slow down the process of aging in people, even by, let’s say, three years, or five years or seven years, that this would produce the equivalent of a major breakthrough against all diseases, fatal and non-fatal, simultaneously for this generation and all future generations. And the benefits would accrue, both in terms of economics for the nation and in terms of basic public health for individuals, the benefits would be huge.
So many of us have suggested for a long time that extending healthy life is a desirable goal, and indeed we’re spending rather large sums of money trying to extend the duration of healthy life among people today. And all we’re suggesting is that perhaps the most efficient way to achieve something that we’re already doing, and that we already know we want to do, is to do something we’ve never done before – and that’s shift our attention towards altering the basic biological process of aging. The benefits would be absolutely enormous for the individuals, for the population.
We are encouraging the United States to invest a rather large sum of money in this particular effort. But we’re also trying to seek essentially a consortium effort – a number of countries going after the means to slow aging in people.
It is important to recognize, by the way, that the researchers that have been working in this area have been largely underfunded for a long time, and even with this relatively modest amount of funding, they have demonstrated quite remarkable effects on other species. This includes a variety of mammals – mice, dogs and monkeys – and since the basic genetics of what goes wrong with us as we grow older is the same in all mammals, we believe that because researchers have successfully done this in other animals that we can do this in people as well.
Scientists involved in this particular manuscript include former directors of the National Institute on Aging. We have quite a stellar group of researchers and scientists across the United States, some researchers in the U.K., that are actively involved in research in the field of aging and certainly know the public policy issues associated with it.
So we believe we’re on the verge of a paradigm shift in the way in which we look at health promotion and disease prevention, and that this new paradigm is going to be one that focuses on a deceleration in the rate of aging in people.
[Writer] Jay Olshansky is a professor in epidemiology and biostatistics at the UIC School of Public Health.
For more information about this research, go to www-dot-news-dot- uic-dot-edu (www.today.uic.edu) … click on “news releases.” … and look for the release dated July 8, 2008.
This has been research news from U-I-C – the University of Illinois at Chicago.