Date: August 2nd, 2016
For 30 years, the Alliance has been focused on realizing its mission: accelerating the pace of scientific discoveries and their application to vastly improve the universal human experience of aging and health.
In this issue of Science in the Spotlight, we take you back over those 30 years to highlight the role we've played in bringing awareness to vital scientific research and discoveries that changed—and continue to change—the way we think about medicine, health, and the future of the human race.
The Alliance was founded in response to the looming challenge of an aging population and the potential increase in health care costs that would result. There was a growing awareness among legislators on Capitol Hill that action needed to be taken to address this challenge. But how?
One of the best answers was turning to medical research for solutions to prevent, postpone, and more effectively treat diseases and disabilities in older patients like cardiovascular conditions, musculoskeletal disabilities, vision loss, diabetes, cancer, and dementia.
An even better answer rested in the study of aging itself, which experts found (and continue to find) serves as the root cause of many of humanity's major health threats. Advances in the study of aging had led to the establishment of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) at the National Institutes of Health in 1974.
By the time 1986 rolled around, it was apparent an advocate for aging research was needed. Although it had great potential, this research did not receive the same amount of attention as more disease-focused research. The Alliance came about to help change this paradigm.
So, this new nonprofit with a very clear goal for advancing scientific research that would prevent and postpone the aging process set out to do just that.
In our early years, we worked to build relationships with key legislators, established a Science Advisory Board, and held workshops, events, and lectures to promote the science of aging research.
An important relationship we developed in our first years was with an expert named Dr. Norman Anderson, who believed that in order to keep our bodies functioning in the face of assaults of nature, diseases, and aging, we needed to assemble a precise parts list for humans down to the molecular level.
We teamed up with Dr. Anderson to introduce this idea to U.S. legislators. Through this outreach, the Alliance played an early role in the beginnings of the Human Genome Project, which has helped spur the discovery of more than 1,800 disease genes.
In the early 1990s, the Alliance worked with legislators and medical experts to garner attention for the value of aging research. These efforts proved to be successful as funding for the NIA rose dramatically, and media stories poured in from major publications throughout the nation.
Throughout the ‘90s and continuing into the 2000s, the Alliance has continued to advocate for aging research as well as other scientific topics focused on older adult health.
In 1992, we debuted our Annual Bipartisan Congressional Awards Dinner to honor those who advance science. Throughout the years, these dinners have helped us highlight the legislators who are championing the cause of science as well as science’s “rock stars,” the researchers whose work has helped us live healthier, happier lives.
In the public policy arena, we’ve fought for research funding, efficient reviews of new drugs and devices at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and in opposition to policies that could slow the pipeline for new discoveries directed at healthier aging.
As we’ve done since our founding, we continue to advocate for increased funding at the NIH, NIA, and the FDA and for legislation that will give science experts the resources they need to more effectively conduct research.
In the 2000s, the Alliance led a broad coalition of universities, patient groups, and medical societies in opposition to crippling limitations that were imposed on promising research involving human embryonic stem cells. Thanks in large part to these efforts, limitations were removed by Presidential Executive Order in 2009 and replaced with a framework for funding ethical stem cell research with full protections against abuse.
The Alliance has played a vital role in raising the profile of the rapidly evolving field of geroscience and its promise to extend our healthy years of life, including authoring journal publications, spearheading the first ever geroscience summit in 2013, a film on the national importance of healthspan, and an ever-growing library of interviews with key researchers.
Over the last decade, our commitment to science and research has led us to form two respected coalitions focused on Alzheimer’s disease (ACT-AD) and sarcopenia (Aging in Motion). They involve some of science’s best and brightest from research, FDA, and industry working together to accelerate the development of cures for both of these conditions.
This is but a brief summary of what we, partnering with a vast assembly of organizations, scientists, policymakers, and people passionate about what’s important to older adults, have been able to accomplish over our first 30 years.
While much has been accomplished, there’s also much more to do. The field of aging research, as has science in general, has entered a new era full of possibilities. We will continue to stay true to our mission.
As our founder, Dan Perry, notes: “It is said that the past is but the prologue for what comes next. [Our] best days still lie ahead when science and innovation, political will, and the desires of millions of people combine to vastly improve our universal experience of aging.”