Slowing down the aging process – the future of disease prevention?
Slowing the aging process would have a much greater benefit for people's health than traditional medical approaches that target individual disease, say experts on BMJ.com today.
Most medical research focuses on preventing and curing individual diseases as if they were independent of one another, but as people in developed nations are living longer they are increasingly experiencing more than one age-related disease – comorbidity is now the norm rather than the exception.
Professor S Jay Olshansky and colleagues believe that the effectiveness of the disease-specific approach will become increasingly limited and that even if a "cure" was found for any of the major fatal diseases, it would have only a marginal effect on life expectancy.
They argue that because our susceptibility to disease increases as we grow older, the most efficient approach to combating disease and disability is a "systematic attack on aging itself."
Evidence suggests that all living things, including humans, possess biochemical mechanisms that influence how quickly we age and these are modifiable, say the authors. Eg, dietary restriction and genetic alteration have been shown to extend the lifespan of many laboratory organisms including mice, flies and worms, and postpone age-related diseases such as cancer, cataracts and cognitive decline.
The authors call for increased funding to investigate how diseases such as type 2 diabetes, Parkinson's disease and most cancers interact with aging and for more research into the "fundamental cellular and physiological changes that drive aging itself", alongside continued research into individual diseases.