Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Annals of NY Academy of Sciences paper on "Why Aging Research?"

My paper entitled "Why Aging Research?" has been accepted for publication in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

This paper was presented to this conference back in May.

Here is the abstract for the paper:

A fair system of social cooperation is one that is both rational and reasonable (John Rawls, 2001). Is it rational and reasonable for societies that (1) are vulnerable to diverse risks of morbidity (e.g. cancer, heart disease) and mortality, and (2) are constrained by limited medical resources, to prioritize aging research? In this paper I make the case for answering “yes” on both accounts. Focusing on a plausible example of an applied gerontological intervention (i.e. an anti-aging pharmaceutical), I argue that the goal of decelerating the rate of human aging would be a more effective strategy for extending the human healthspan than the current strategy of just tackling each specific disease of aging. Furthermore, the aspiration to retard human aging is also a reasonable aspiration, for the principle that underlies it (i.e. the duty to prevent harm) is one that no one could reasonably reject.

And a sample, addressing the concern that prioritizing aging research contravenes the demands of global justice:

....Rather than permit our frustrations about existing global health inequities to impede the development of new health innovations (by eschewing aging research), we should instead champion both innovation and greater access to existing (and future) health interventions. It is true that medical advancements are not equally available to everyone in the world. The benefits of the sanitation revolution, which is among one of the greatest medical advancements in human history, are still unequally accessible to the world’s 6.7 billion people. The World Health Organization estimates that 2.6 billion people lack sanitation worldwide. This is a human tragedy that ought to be rectified. However, it is also important to recognise that over 4 billion people, which is four times the size of the entire global population at the beginning of the nineteenth century, now enjoy access to the benefits of the sanitation revolution. And that is an amazing achievement.

A realistic time-frame for realizing the benefits of any health innovation must take seriously the diverse logistics involved in making these benefits accessible to diverse populations. The tasks of monitoring water quality and pollution are complex and large-scale endeavours. Governments face many coordination challenges, such as enforcing compliance, for both rural and densely populated urban settings. And so the general affluence of a country, as well as its natural resources, profoundly influences the quality of sanitation it can offer its citizens. But in the case of developing an “anti-aging” pill to protect against chronic disease, there is good reason to believe that many of these obstacles will be less of a challenge.

Unlike sanitation, the main costs associated with the development of an anti-aging pill will most likely be with research and development, rather than the manufacturing and dispersion of such a pill. So I believe there is good reason to be optimistic that such an anti-aging intervention could be enjoyed by most of the world’s population in a relatively short time from when it is first developed. Especially if we make, as we ought to, the commitment to retard human aging a global, and not just domestic, health priority.