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Prominent Scientists Call for Policymakers to Invest in Research to Gain a “Longevity Dividend”
Advances in science predict relief from age-related disease, higher quality of life, and economic benefits
Washington, D.C. – At an international gathering organized by the not-for-profit Alliance for Aging Research, prominent scientists called for governments and health care organizations worldwide to invest in the extension of healthy human life in order to produce a “Longevity Dividend” for nations with aging populations.
A longevity dividend of lower health care costs, increased savings and worker productivity would result from a modest deceleration in the rate of aging by about seven years, explained Dr. S. Jay Olshansky of the University of Illinois. Olshansky was one of more than 90 scientists and aging research advocates from 16 nations who signed a statement asserting that slowing aging to extend healthy life in humans “is scientifically plausible,” and that adequate funding could produce “dramatic advances in preventive medicine and public health within the next few decades.”
The group released the statement at a symposium on Capitol Hill today, and cited successful attempts in recent years to lengthen healthy life in laboratory animals, including mammals. The group said, “we now believe that extending the duration of healthy life in humans by slowing down the processes of aging is a scientifically plausible goal.”
Among those citing the social and economic benefits to nations with aging populations, such as the United States, were Dr. Robert Fogel, a Nobel laureate from the University of Chicago, and Dr. Alexandre Kolache who directs aging and health programs for the World Health Organization.
The statement by the international group asserted that more funding is needed for intervention studies in aging, because such research has “the potential to do what no surgical procedure, behavior modification or cure for any one major fatal disease can do; namely, extend youthful vigor throughout the lifespan.”
Older people who retain physical and mental vigor could remain in the labor force longer, amass more income and savings, and relieve pressure on age-based entitlement programs, explained several speakers at the symposium.
The Alliance for Aging Research, which sponsored the gathering, points out that in the U.S., beginning in less than five years, the Baby Boom generation will become the largest Medicare generation in history. As a result, the incidence of chronic disease and related health care costs are projected to increase dramatically. For example:
- The costs of Alzheimer’s disease, which today costs more than $100 billion, could quadruple by 2050;
- In less than 10 years, more than 300,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed each year – a 50% increase since 2004; and
- More than one million Americans will have a first stroke every year by 2050, an increase of 167% for men and 140% for women.
Continued investment in medical research is critical in addressing the burden of age-related chronic disease, according to the Alliance. The National Institutes of Health are funded at $28 billion in 2006, but less than 0.1% of that amount goes to understanding the biology of aging and how it predisposes individuals to a host of costly diseases and disorders expressed at later ages.
“The goal is not to produce a 170-year-old person, but success means it should take 80 years to get to be 60,” explained Daniel Perry, executive director of the Alliance. “We really have no choice but to confront our demographic future head-on with the best ideas science and medical research can discover.”
The scientists’ statement is available at: http://sjayolshansky.com/sjo/Background_files/TheScientist.pdf.
For more information, refer to the March 2006 issue of The Scientist, “In pursuit of the Longevity Dividend,” by S. Jay Olshansky, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the University of Illinois, Chicago; Daniel Perry, executive director for the Alliance for Aging Research; Richard A. Miller, professor of pathology at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; and Robert N. Butler, president and CEO of the International Longevity Center in New York. www.The-Scientist.com.
To learn more about the burden of chronic disease and the promise of innovation, access the Alliance’s new online almanac, www.silverbook.org.
Founded in 1986, the Alliance for Aging Research is a nonprofit, independent organization dedicated to improving the health and independence of aging Americans through public and private funding of medical research and geriatric education. The Alliance combines the interest of top scientists, public officials, business executives, and foundation leaders to promote a greater national investment in research and new technologies that will prepare our nation for the coming senior boom, and improve the quality of life for today’s older generation.