Monday, August 21, 2006

Longevity Dividend Campaign

As I posted in some previous posts (here, here, here and here), I have been following the newly emerging debates on the ethics of human enhancements with much interest.

For me the important issue is not should we permit people to utilize (should we develop safe and effective) human enhancements (why stifle science and prevent people from improving the quality of their lives?). Rather the real important issue is determining how much priority (in terms of utilizing public funds) should we place on such aspirations relative to other pressing laudable aims that compete for scarce public funds. So when I was recently contacted to support the Longevity Dividend Campaign that will take place on Capitol Hill on September 12th I was more than happy to lend my support. Hopefully this campaign will raise greater awareness about the importance of investing in the extension of healthy life.

The impetus for the campaign is this thoughtful piece in The Scientist written by S. Jay Olshansky, Daniel Perry, Richard Miller and Robert Butler. Here are a few excerpts from the article:

The experience of aging is about to change. Humans are approaching old age in unprecedented numbers, and this generation and all that follow have the potential to live longer, healthier lives than any in history. These changing demographics also carry the prospect of overwhelming increases in agerelated disease, frailty, disability, and all the associated costs and social burdens. The choices we make now will have a profound influence on the health and the wealth of current and future generations....

What we have in mind is not the unrealistic pursuit of dramatic increases in life expectancy, let alone the kind of biological immortality best left to science fiction novels. Rather, we envision a goal that is realistically achievable: a modest deceleration in the rate of aging sufficient to delay all aging-related diseases and disorders by about seven years. This target was chosen because the risk of death and most other negative attributes of aging tends to rise exponentially throughout the adult lifespan with a doubling time of approximately seven years. Such a delay would yield health and longevity benefits greater than what would be achieved with the elimination of cancer or heart disease.23 And we believe it can be achieved for generations now alive.

If we succeed in slowing aging by seven years, the age-specific risk of death, frailty, and disability will be reduced by approximately half at every age. People who reach the age of 50 in the future would have the health profile and disease risk of today’s 43-year-old; those aged 60 would resemble current 53-year-olds, and so on. Equally important, once achieved, this seven-year delay would yield equal health and longevity benefits for all subsequent generations, much the same way children born in most nations today benefit from the discovery and development of immunizations.

An important part of this campaign is it's well-thought out and reasonable recommendation. When placed in the context of the current political agenda (i.e. spending billions on wars around the world to win the "war on terror", vetoing the stem cell bill , repealing the estates tax, etc.) one realizes how sensible and welcomed this campaign is (though the campaign is sensible and reasonable in its own right). Here is the recommendation:

The NIH is 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 us to a suite of costly diseases and disorders expressed at later ages. We are calling on Congress to invest $3 billion annually to this effort, or about 1% of the current Medicare budget of $309 billion, and to provide the organizational and intellectual infrastructure and other related resources to make this work.

Specifically, we recommend that one-third of this budget ($1 billion) be devoted to the basic biology of aging with a focus on genomics and regenerative medicine as they relate to longevity science. Another third should be devoted to age-related diseases as part of a coordinated trans-NIH effort. One sixth ($500 million) should be devoted to clinical trials with proportionate representation of older persons (aged 65+) that include head-to-head studies of drugs or interventions including lifestyle comparisons, cost-effectiveness studies, and the development of a national system for postmarketing surveillance.

The remaining $500 million should go to a national preventive medicine research initiative that would include studies of safety and health in the home and workplace and address issues of physical inactivity and obesity as well as genetic and other early-life pathological influences. This last category would include studies of the social and economic means to effect positive changes in health behaviors in the face of current health crises – obesity and diabetes – that can lower life expectancy. Elements of the budget could be phased in over time, and it would be appropriate to use funds within each category for research training and the development of appropriate infrastructure. We also strongly encourage the development of an international consortium devoted to this task, as all nations would benefit from securing the Longevity Dividend.

With this effort, we believe it will be possible to intervene in aging among the baby boom cohorts, and all generations after them would enjoy the health and economic benefits of delayed
aging. Such a monetary commitment would be small when compared to that spent each year on Medicare alone, but it would pay dividends an order of magnitude greater than the investment.
And it would do so for current and future generations.

Lend your support to this important initiative today!