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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(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.

Relat­ed arti­cles:

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

- Glob­al Con­sor­tium for Neu­rocog­ni­tive Fit­ness Inno­va­tion

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