Friday, January 04, 2013

Science NextGen VOICES Submission

My submission to Science's NextGen Voices competition was selected as one of the top online essay submissions.

The competition asked you to imagine you had been elected President, and in your inaugural address you had to announce the biggest challenge facing the country today and how you will use science to address it. Here was my entry:

The biggest challenge facing the United States is promoting the health prospects of an aging population. By the year 2030, the number of people aged 65 or older will double to approximately 71 million. Age is a major risk factor for chronic disease and disability, and a healthcare system originally designed to attend to acute illness and injury is ill-equipped for addressing the challenges of a growing, older population with multimorbidity. Promoting the health prospects of those late in life is both a moral duty and an economic necessity. How can science help us meet these novel challenges? In recent years the biology of aging has helped unlock the mysteries of healthy longevity. For example, the genome of the longest living rodent, the naked mole rat, was sequenced in 2011. It has a maximum life span exceeding 30 years and an exceptional resistance to cancer. A variety of experiments on fruit flies, mice, and other species have demonstrated that the rate of aging can be manipulated, either by calorie restriction or by activating particular genes. Research on centenarians (age >100) and supercentenarians (age > 110) suggests there are "longevity genes" that protect these rare individuals from the diseases that afflict their contemporaries decades earlier. The development of a drug that would help the average person replicate the biology of these exceptionally healthy older persons would be among this century's greatest advances in medicine. Thus the field of biogerontology ought to be an integral component of "well-ordered" science for the 21st century.