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Ever heard of the Longevity Dividend? Perhaps Gray is the New Gold

The Longevity Div­i­dend is a the­ory that says we hope to inter­vene sci­en­tif­i­cally to slow the aging process, which will also delay the onset of age-related dis­eases. Delay­ing aging just seven years would slash rates of con­di­tions like can­cer, dia­betes, Alzheimer’s dis­ease and heart dis­ease in half. That’s the longevity part.

The div­i­dend comes from the social, eco­nomic, and health bonuses that would then be avail­able to spend on schools, energy, jobs, infra­struc­ture tril­lions of dol­lars that today we spend on health­care ser­vices. In fact, at the rate we’re going, by the year 2020 one out of every $5 spent in this coun­try will be spent on health­care. Obvi­ously, some­thing has to change.

Enter the Longevity Div­i­dend. The Longevity Div­i­dend doesn’t sug­gest that we live longer; instead, it calls for liv­ing bet­ter. The idea is that if we use sci­ence to increase healthspan, not lifes­pan. In other words, tomor­rows 50-year-old would have the health pro­file of a 43-year-old.

It might sound like sci­ence fic­tion, but, in fact, it’s quite pos­si­ble. We’re already doing it in some ani­mal mod­els using genetic and dietary inter­ven­tions, tech­niques related to what sci­en­tists call “the biol­ogy of aging.”

Get­ting there in humans, how­ever, means embrac­ing an entirely new approach to our think­ing about dis­ease and aging, and how we con­duct sci­en­tific research into the two.

Get­ting Sci­en­tists’ Attention

A group of emi­nent researchers first pro­posed the Longevity Div­i­dend in a 2006 arti­cle pub­lished in The Sci­en­tist. The authors, S. Jay Olshan­sky, PhD, pro­fes­sor of epi­demi­ol­ogy and bio­sta­t­ics at the Uni­ver­sity of Illi­nois in Chicago, Daniel P. Perry, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Alliance for Aging Research in Wash­ing­ton, DC, Richard A. Miller, MD, PhD, pro­fes­sor of pathol­ogy at the Uni­ver­sity of Michi­gan in Ann Arbor, and Robert N. But­ler, MD, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Inter­na­tional Longevity Cen­ter in New York, intended their essay to be a “gen­eral state­ment to sci­en­tists about the need for a par­a­digm shift in the way we think about aging and disease.

The researchers also met with U.S. sen­a­tors who served on the Sen­ate com­mit­tee that over­saw the bud­get for the National Insti­tutes of Health (NIH). “We told them we believed that a new way was avail­able to us to improve health in this cen­tury, but it was an approach that was fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent from the approach we had been tak­ing, recalls Dr. Olshan­sky. Instead of focus­ing on indi­vid­ual dis­eases, the researchers said, sig­nif­i­cantly more funds should be shifted to research on the biol­ogy of aging so we could unravel the under­ly­ing patho­phys­i­o­log­i­cal processes that even­tu­ally result in cel­lu­lar dam­age and lead to age-related diseases.

The sci­en­tists were suc­cess­ful to a point. The fis­cal year 2008 Labor/Health and Human Ser­vices Appro­pri­a­tions bill did include lan­guage acknowl­edg­ing the impor­tance of holis­tic research into the under­pin­nings of aging itself:

The Com­mit­tee com­mends the (National Insti­tute on Aging [NIA]) for work it has done to improve under­stand­ing of the bio­log­i­cal fac­tors that reg­u­late the processes of aging. These new dis­cov­er­ies have led many sci­en­tists to believe that it may become pos­si­ble to post­pone the onset of a wide range of fatal and dis­abling dis­eases, in a coor­di­nated fash­ion, by retar­da­tion of the aging process. It is widely under­stood that chronic ill­ness is a pow­er­ful dri­ver of med­ical costs, which in the United States are expected to reach $16 bil­lion annu­ally by 2030. To alle­vi­ate this finan­cial bur­den and to develop inter­ven­tions that can extend health and longevity, the Com­mit­tee urges the NIH to increase dra­mat­i­cally its annual invest­ment in the bio­log­i­cal basis of aging.

Unfor­tu­nately, the NIA still received just 3.5 per­cent of the nearly $30 bil­lion NIH bud­get in fis­cal year 2008 (see table on below). Com­pare that to the National Can­cer Insti­tute, which received 16.1 per­cent of the fund­ing, the largest slice of the pie. Yet if we spent more to unravel the cel­lu­lar secrets of aging, con­tended Dr. Olshan­sky and his col­leagues, we wouldn’t need to spend so much on can­cer and other dis­eases of aging because fewer peo­ple would develop them.

To get this mes­sage across to clin­i­cians as well as sci­en­tists, in July 2008 the researchers pub­lished another essay, this time in The British Med­ical Jour­nal. “A New Model of Health Pro­mo­tion and Dis­ease Pre­ven­tion for the 21st Cen­tury” con­tended that the effec­tive­ness of med­ical research world­wide “will become lim­ited unless there is an increased shift to under­stand­ing how aging affects health and vitality.

For instance, the report noted, since most peo­ple have more than one chronic dis­ease in the final third of their lives, cur­ing any of the major fatal dis­eases would “have only a mar­ginal effect on life expectancy and the over­all length of healthy life.

We are ulti­mately talk­ing about the best form of pre­ven­tion you can have, said Dr. Olshan­sky of work to under­stand the biol­ogy of aging. “And this ulti­mate method of pre­ven­tion will carry with it sig­nif­i­cant bonuses or div­i­dends. Peo­ple will be health­ier longer so there will be many oppor­tu­ni­ties to spend money on things other than healthcare.

National Insti­tutes of Health Appro­pri­a­tions: Fis­cal Year 2008

Total:  $29.46 bil­lion
National Can­cer Insti­tute  4.81 bil­lion
National Insti­tute of Allergy and Infec­tious Dis­eases  $4.56 bil­lion
National Heart, Lung and Blood Insti­tute  $2.92 bil­lion
National Insti­tute of Gen­eral Med­ical Sci­ences   $1.94 bil­lion
National Insti­tute of Dia­betes and Diges­tive and Kid­ney Dis­eases $1.86 bil­lion
National Insti­tute of Neu­ro­log­i­cal Dis­or­ders and Stroke  $1.54 bil­lion
National Insti­tute of Men­tal Health  $1.40 bil­lion
National Insti­tute of Child Health and Human Devel­op­ment  $1.25 bil­lion
National Cen­ter for Research Resources  $1.15 bil­lion
Office of the Direc­tor  $1.11 bil­lion
National Insti­tute on Aging  $1.05 billion

Gray is the New Gold: Optimism in Aging Research– This is an excerpt from the Gray is the New Gold State of the Sci­ence Report:  Opti­mism in Aging Research (free down­load Here) pub­lished by Kro­nos Longevity Research Insti­tute. Kro­nos Longevity Research Insti­tute (KLRI) is a not-for-profit, 501©(3) orga­ni­za­tion that con­ducts state-of-the-art clin­i­cal trans­la­tional research on the pre­ven­tion of age-related dis­eases and the exten­sion of health­ier human life.

Related arti­cles:

- The Future of the Aging Soci­ety: Bur­den or Human Capital?

- Global Con­sor­tium for Neu­rocog­ni­tive Fit­ness Innovation

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