Why basic biology of aging?
Healthy aging is the most effective form of preventative medicine possible.
Aging drives disease. Although most people don’t think about it, age is the single greatest risk factor for nearly every major cause of death and disability in developed nations. This includes risk of diagnosis for Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, kidney disease, cardiovascular disease, stroke, many types of cancer, and a variety of musculoskeletal disorders. Indeed, the increase in risk of death from all of these disorders between age 25 and 65 dwarfs the increased risk associated with obesity, smoking, and excessive alcohol consumption combined. Yet, we typically don’t think about aging as a risk factor that can be modified. Research into the biology of aging is about to change that.
A primary goal of aging research is to understand the molecular mechanisms that cause us to age in order to develop interventions that slow the aging process. This may sound like science fiction, but in recent years it has become science fact. In every laboratory organism where we have put effort into understanding the biology of aging, scientists have successfully come up with ways to increase the lifespans of those organisms, often by more than 50%. This includes small mammals such as mice and rats, and in one case, even rhesus monkeys. There is good reason to believe that similar approaches will be effective in larger mammals, such as dogs and cats, and even in people.
An important feature of these interventions that slow aging is that, as expected, they also reduce disease. Healthspan is a term scientists have coined to refer to the period of life spent in relatively good health, free of chronic disease or disability. The primary goal of HALo is to promote healthy aging—or longer healthspan—for people and their companion animals through interventions that slow aging at a molecular level.
Why should you support aging research at UW?
There are many good reasons to support the efforts of HALo.
Basic aging research is underfunded by the federal government, despite the potential for dramatic improvements in human health. NIH funding for specific diseases dwarfs that spent on the basic biology of aging. This, despite the fact that the relative gains in healthy life expectancy are much greater from interventions that slow aging, as opposed to curing individual diseases. The reasons for this discrepancy in funding are complex and include social, historical, and political components, but the fact is this is unlikely to change anytime soon.
The UW is a recognized leader in aging research. Our faculty have a rich history of aging research at the highest level. We are the only institution in the world with NIH funded Centers of Excellence in the Basic Biology of Aging, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Parkinson’s Disease along with dedicated training grants for Genetic Approaches to Aging and Alzheimer’s Disease research.
Your support will fund basic science with a real potential to improve millions of lives. HALo is focused on promoting research that will lead to the development of interventions that extend healthy lifespan. For example, the Healthy Aging in Companion Animals strategic initiative [MK2] aims to demonstrate the successful extension of healthspan in pets within the next 5-10 years. When successful, this will have an immediate and profound impact on the lives of millions of pet owners. Further, it will raise the social awareness of aging research to new heights and will almost certainly provide the incentive and funding to extend this work to humans.
Your support could very well contribute to happier, healthier and longer lives for you and your loved ones.
Lemuel Gitari works in the Rabinovitch Lab. Photo by Scott Locke.