I really hope you were able to watch the National Geographic documentary, The Age of Aging, as I suggested. I’ve been predicting a fundamental transformation in the way that the public, especially the baby-boom generation, views health care and the regulatory process. This documentary is powerful evidence that this revolutionary change is well underway and accelerating.
If you’ve been reading me, you probably already know most of the specific information about aging that was presented in the show. The critical, historic aspect about the documentary, however, is that it was even made. If you subscribe to some network that includes the series, you can access it online or sign in here to watch the program.
The program was nearly perfect for investors and those who want to see health care brought into the 21st century. In addition to Brian Kennedy, CEO of the Buck Institute, the other scientists involved in the production were of sterling caliber and reputation. This includes S. Jay Olshansky, PhD, Nir Barzilai, MD, Simon Melov, PhD, James Kirkland, MD, PhD, Cynthia Kenyon, PhD, and others.
The documentary itself is what you’d expect from National Geographic and director Ron Howard. Moreover, the National Geographic Channel perfectly hits the wealthier, older demographic that needs to hear this message. And that message is simple: When it comes to health care, we’ve been doing it wrong.
Several of the scientists featured in the program admit that the search for “a fountain of youth” is tarnished by a history of fraud and dashed expectations. What’s different today, though, is that science has uncovered mechanisms that modulate aging as well as substances that extend healthy life in animals. Based on a surprising amount of preliminary human data, these substances are expected to do the same in the people. The evidence is presented calmly and persuasively.
The fact that this documentary exists makes my job easier because most people don’t understand how much the scientific consensus has shifted. In recent years, the community of researchers who investigate aging has become increasingly convinced that we can delay the biological glitches that accelerate the aging process and bring on specific diseases.
Unfortunately, our regulatory system still focuses solely on treating the results of aging after they have occurred. As one of the scientists in the documentary pointed out, we have essentially transferred the medical model developed to treat infectious diseases to the diseases of aging… and it doesn’t work.
As a group, biogerontologists have been saying this for several years, but the general population is unaware of the fact that aging can be treated, thus delaying or preventing the diseases that arise when complex metabolic systems begin to malfunction. These ailments include all the big killers of our era, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, Alzheimer’s, and others.
The heart of the show is an important news event, the effort headed up by Dr. Nir Barzilai of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to get FDA approval for clinical trials that would test the widely used diabetes drug metformin as an anti-aging therapy.
I told you about that meeting with the FDA when it was happening, but more people need to understand the promise embodied in metformin. Besides numerous studies showing that metformin extends health spans in animals, the human data is compelling. Though type-2 diabetes will shorten a person’s life by about eight years if untreated, a British observational study of about 150,000 people showed that diabetics who take metformin have a 17% lower rate of mortality and significantly outlive the general population.
Of critical importance was Barzilai’s statement in the program: “We’re sure of the science. Metformin may not be the ultimate drug, but it’s a tool—generic, cheap, and safe. We want to show that we’re going to slow the rate of aging.”
Once the regulatory path for an anti-aging drug becomes established, the pharmaceutical industry will be able to develop drugs to prevent diseases, just as it has developed drugs to treat diseases. Another interesting aspect of the documentary is that it seems to have been consciously written to encourage the FDA to approve the metformin trials.
The tenor of the show is non-confrontational, but it clearly and politely paints the FDA into a corner, challenging the government and regulators to do the right thing and lessen both the costs and suffering associated with premature aging. While the meeting with the regulators couldn’t be filmed, the deputy director of the FDA, Robert Temple, MD, was interviewed afterward, and what he said was encouraging.
Following the meeting, a beaming Barzilai said on camera, “We always thought the Promised Land wasn’t in our reach. And I think we are going to the Promised Land. The fact that the FDA is going to be positive is really a major achievement.” Biogerontologist and author Steven Austad, PhD, who attended the meeting, described the FDA as “very receptive.”
A significant part of the show was dedicated to explaining that even a marginal slowing of aging in humans would yield monumental effects. Video was shown of a meeting with Claire McCaskill of Missouri, the ranking member of the Senate Aging Committee. She clearly understood the message brought to her by the scientists supporting the metformin trial.
Specifically, she stated that people don’t realize that delaying the onset of adult diabetes would be enough to get the US out of debt. Therefore, an across-the-board delay in aging would do much more. “Of course the train wreck is coming,” she said, adding that the demographic bubble threatens “all of our government programs.”
This, of course, is true. While she described anti-aging medicine as a way to avoid the budgetary train wreck, Brian Kennedy was clearest in describing the existential threat aging poses for our economy and society: “The world’s rapidly getting older. There’s not going to be enough people working to pay for all the older people… I hope we look back on this era and say, ‘Wow, the medical community was on top of this, and they developed interventions that kept everybody healthy longer, prevented these diseases, lowered healthcare costs, and kept the world economy growing.’”
I think even Kennedy understated the urgency of this challenge, though. Just as most people seem to avoid thinking of their own age-related morbidity and mortality, society as a whole is not yet facing the consequences of the aging demographic. Already, however, we’re nearly maxed out on the national credit card, with the direct debt jumping to about $19 trillion in the last few months. The largest component of the budget and therefore the debt is, in fact, transfer payments to the aged.
That’s why I think Barzilai and others may underestimate the pace of this transformation. If the problem of aging is not solved, we face outcomes similar to those suffered by Japan and Greece. The extraordinarily homogenous Japanese society is struggling to deal with the deterioration of the country’s economy due to the burden of an aged population. The Greek budget is similarly stressed by unpayable entitlements for its aged, but the breakdown is even more obvious there.
The West’s governments will come to grips with this problem—and the potential to solve it via biotechnologies—because politicians, desperate to keep tax revenues flowing, will accelerate the transformation of health care to satisfy aging voters and younger taxpayers alike. Many of the anti-aging scientists in the program were optimistic about a transition to anti-aging health care. Olshansky observed that “there’s a lot of excitement in the field. Now we can feel traction. We can feel that people are coming on board.”
I saw some evidence of this change after the documentary was aired. On the Drudge Report, the single most important website for journalists, a story about the metformin effort titled, “Anti-ageing drug could let you live to 120 in good health” was featured for days. Other stories elsewhere made the same claim.
While I don’t believe that metformin alone will achieve those results, that kind of press coverage is a sign of the accelerating transformation. And maybe some combination of anti-aging therapeutics will get people extremely close to their approximately 120-year Hayflick Limit.
As I write this, some news sources are claiming that the FDA has approved the trial. More information will be available soon, I’m sure. Once again, you can access The Age of Aging using your network subscriber information here.
If you want to learn more about my ongoing research into anti-aging biotech breakthroughs (and how to profit from them), give my monthly advisory, Transformation Technology Alert, a risk-free try today.
Editor, Transformational Technology Alert
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