May 27, 2009
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
— 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(c)(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.