A panel of 10 luminaries in the field of gerontology, including Aubrey de Grey, Caleb Finch and Jan Vijg, convened to urge the translation of recent findings in the field of aging into therapeutic agents that can benefit the world's growing population of older individuals. Their report was published in the July 14, 2010 issue of the American Association for the Advancement of Science journal Science Translational Medicine.
In the introduction to their article, the authors note that age is the greatest risk factor for the majority of chronic diseases in the western world, and is of increasing significance in the developing world as well. Functionality decreases with age while disease incidence increases, and mortality rates double approximately every 7 to 8 years following puberty. These phenomena are attributable to the accumulation of damaging changes in the body that occur at the molecular, cellular and tissue levels due to the effects of normal metabolism as well as environmental causes and unhealthy lifestyles.
In order to prevent a global aging crisis caused by a greater proportion of older individuals and the resulting increases in medical costs and social challenges, the panel advocates the collaboration of a number of countries in an international initiative to translate laboratory findings on aging into pharmaceutical agents that will improve the lives of older men and women.
"We propose a global biological aging research agenda focused on the detailed understanding of the following overlapping core age changes and developing therapies for decelerating, arresting, and reversing them: (i) the loss of proliferative homeostasis, (ii) neurodegeneration, (iii) somatic mutations in both nuclear and mitochondrial DNA, (iv) nonadaptive alterations in gene expression, (v) immunosenescence, (vi) nonadaptive inflammation, and (vii) alterations of the extracellular milieu," the authors write. "To ameliorate age-related changes, we identify three broad modes of intervention that should be exploited in addition to ongoing conventional, disease-centered medical innovation: (i) reduction in exposure to environmental toxins and amelioration of other risk factors through improved public health; (ii) modulation of metabolic pathways contributing to age-related changes; and (iii) a more broadly conceived regenerative medicine, to embrace the repair, removal, or replacement of existing aging damage or its decoupling from its pathological sequelae."
"There is this misunderstanding that aging is something that just happens to you, like the weather, and cannot be influenced," remarked Dr Vijg, who is chair of genetics and the Lola and Saul Kramer Chair in Molecular Genetics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine at Yeshiva University. "The big surprise of the last decade is that, in many different animals, we can increase healthy life span in various ways. A program of developing and testing similar interventions in humans would make both medical and economic sense."
"In the case of late-life intervention in human age-related degeneration, what we can be certain of today is that a policy of aging as usual will lead to enormous humanitarian, social and financial costs," the authors conclude. "To realize any chance of success, the drive to tackle biological aging head-on must begin now."