As politicians try to reform a health care system that could swallow one-fifth of the nation’s economic output by 2020, they should consider making a small bet with a potentially huge payoff: research that could slow the process of aging
In papers published in The Scientist and British Medical Journal, Olshanksy and International Longevity Center president Robert Butler wrote that drugs that delay aging’s onset by seven years are now a realistic possibility.
They’re currently in the process of calculating this longevity dividend’s economic benefits. Even if the figures aren’t finalized, however, they’re likely to be massive. For Alzheimer’s disease alone, they estimate that the cost of care will rise to $1 trillion by 2050. The Robert Wood Johnson foundation estimates two-thirds of rising health costs come from chronic diseases
The NIH channels almost all U.S. governmental support for age-delaying research through the National Institute on Aging, but its $1 billion budget is a pittance by federal standards. Nearly $5 billion is earmarked for the National Cancer Institute, and that’s just one disease of aging. Of the NIA’s $1 billion, just $180 million is set aside for research on the biology of aging. That figure has barely changed since 2006.
President Obama’s stimulus package did allot $273 million for the National Institute on Aging, but only a small fraction will likely go to potentially age-delaying research, said Peter Rabinovitch, a University of Washington gerontologist. By contrast, the stimulus plan contains $37 billion for electronic health records.
The UK Prospective Diabetes Study 34 showed that in patients with type II diabetes, metformin treatment resulted in reductions in end-organ damage, myocardial infarction, and all-cause mortality. Stephen Spindler, professor of biochemistry at the University of California, San Diego, has shown that metformin out-performs short-term calorie restriction in inducing the geneexpression changes associated with long-term calorie restriction. Not everyone is persuaded by the metformin results, however. Side effects, such as a small risk of lactic acidosis that can be fatal in certain patients, are not likely worth the risk of lifelong treatment for aging.
We could sidestep all of these issues with a technology that repairs or replaces mitochondrial DNA globally throughout the body – such as protofection, demonstrated back in 2005. If we replace all mitochondrial DNA with fresh new mitochondrial DNA, then it doesn’t matter why or how its prior state was causing issues because we just fixed the problem.
This is as good an example as any to show that we don’t need complete understanding of human biochemistry in order to make important inroads into repairing the damage of aging. More understanding helps, but we have enough knowledge now to move ahead with significant and important rejuvenation technologies – were there a large research community and the will and funding to forge ahead
Our team confirmed our previous preliminary data showing that we can achieve robust mitochondrial transfection and protein expression in mitochondria of live rats, after an injection of genetically engineered mitochondrial DNA complexed with our protofection transfection agent. A significant fraction of cells in the brain is transfected with this single injection even though we so far did not optimize the dose.
This achievement has important implications for medicine: protofection technology works in vivo, and should be capable of replacing damaged mitochondrial genomes
In Popular Mechanics, Dean Kamen one of the world’s most prolific inventors of healthcare technologies, challenges the notion that the U.S. has a healthcare crisis. Rather than slowing the pace of medical progress in order to cut healthcare costs, he argues, America should be encouraging more innovation in life-saving drugs and technologies.
Every drug that’s made is a gift from one generation to the next because, while it may be expensive now, it goes off patent and your kids will have it essentially for free. You can’t look at the problem and say, “I want them to do more, better, faster miracles—and not invest in research, not invest in development, and have those miracles delivered to me free.” It’s unrealistic. And people know that about most things. They do. Nobody expects that just because they’ve made computers better they’re going to give them to you free.
We spent on all pharmaceuticals in the United States last year $260 billion. That means all those vaccinations to prevent diseases, all those pills to treat diseases, all those pills to cure them so we don’t have to treat them anymore. We spent in all branches of all our pharmaceutical suppliers, $260 billion.
That’s certainly way up from what it was in the early days of the world, but we also spent way more money on computers and other things that didn’t exist back then, either, and we don’t claim we have a computer crisis. We spent more money on our iPhones last year than we did ten years ago cause there were no iPhones. But let me compare $260 billion to other things. How much did we spend in the United States last year on tobacco? $88 billion. That’s a significant piece of 260. It’s the reason we spent some of that 260. How much did we spend last year on alcohol? The government doesn’t subsidize that, you don’t have a right to it, it’s discretionary spending and if you were really in trouble you would probably spend a little less on alcohol. We spent $90 billion.
Last year what did we spend in the United States on soft drinks? $121 billion. Nearly half of what we spend on all of our pharmaceuticals, on soft drinks. I’m not against soft drinks—I think you ought to buy all the soft drinks you want.
Last year what did we spend supporting professional sports? $409 billion.
Now if somebody in this country wants to explain to me that we ought to be spending about twice as much supporting sports as on all of our pharmaceuticals, then stop spending. You don’t like that drug? You don’t want to cure this disease? Don’t buy it. But don’t make villains out of people so that we can turn what is a real social responsibility issue into a political debate.
Diabetes alone, if you include all of the long-term, insidious consequences of a lifetime of diabetes, is responsible for about 30 percent of the federal reimbursement for healthcare. Well, it would kill us if we look at the 30-year actuarial data based on our 19th century confidence in technology. But I’m sure in 1920 if you asked actuaries to say what percentage of our GDP are we going to spend taking care of people with polio, they’d say: “They get polio, it goes to their lungs, they sit in iron lung machines, they could live a whole lifetime with three people watching over them. We can’t support them all.”
But what did it cost to deal with everybody with polio? Oh, $2 apiece. We gave them the Salk vaccine. But in the 1920s Salk wasn’t around yet.
Cures and treatments are not equal. Iron lung style are expensive and bad while vaccines and new treatments like stem cells and gene therapy could be very good.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.