With politicians attempting to reform the US health care system, which has the potential to consume at least one-fifth of the countries output by the year 2020, they might want to look elsewhere for savings. How about those conducting research into slowing the ageing process?
Doug Wallace, a biologist at the University of California, specializes in the field of mitochondria, which relates to the cellular power plants that exist outside the cell nucleus, transform glucose into available energy and break it down over time. Wallace believes that that breakdown of the cells is the underlying factor to almost every age-related disease, with a greater risk for those reaching middle age from dementia, heart disease to cancer.
Going back a decade Mr. Wallace was a rather lone voice in his field, but with the latest research conducted by several different groups, it is now believed that he might well be on to something. Research into cancer cells, diseased hearts, and brain cells (from Alzheimer suffers) have all indicated signs of broken-down mitochondria. Although this might relate more to the effect than the actual cause, drugs used in trails on laboratory mice have been targeting a group of mitochondria regulating genes known as sirtuins, and have show possible signs of slowing age related diseases.
Drug tests have failed to indicate positive signs in humans, and things might well stay that way. Yet scientists do still believe the potential is there to nip age related diseases at the origin, rather than just to hold off a disease for a short period of time, which can often come at a very high financial cost.
This could be particularly appealing as the country attempts to confront the excessive spending in the health care sector, which could top more than $4 trillion by the year 2020. Research complied in a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation states that age-related chronic diseases are presently accounting for up to three-quarters of the health care costs in the U.S. A lot of this cost might relate to waste, combined with the ageing population, but even with the required steps taken a noticeable problem will still exist.
An ageing and longevity specialist at the University of Illinois School of Public Health, Jay Olshanksy has expressed concern that in time this disease-specific route will run its course, and will end with a prolonged period of frailty and disability in the aged.
Jay Olshanksy is also a researcher of part of the MacArthur Foundation study that looks at the economical and social implications that comes with a society that is able to live longer, but without the benefit of being healthier. In research published in the British Medical Journal and The Scientist from Robert Butler, the International Longevity Centre president and wrote that taking the right prescription drugs has the potential to delay the ageing process by almost seven years.
Presently, they are attempting to establish the economic benefits of this longevity dividend, but even if the calculations are not finalized it is believed that they will be colossal. For a disease such as Alzheimer’s standing on its own, the expected costs by the year 2050 are believed to be in the region of $1 trillion, and the latest estimates indicate that two-thirds of the rising health bill comes from a chronic disease.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) is channeling most of its US government support into research for age-delaying treatments via the National Institute on Ageing (NIA), and although its budget is $1 billion, by federal standards it’s a pittance. Almost $5 billion is allocated for the National Cancer Institute (NCI) which is the main agency for cancer research. In a recent government stimulus plan, a sum of $273 million was granted to the NIA, but out of the amount it is believed only a small fraction will ever be used for age-related research. In contrast to that, the stimulus package contained a sizeable sum of $37 billion for use on electronic health records.
According to a University of Washington gerontologist, Peter Rabinovitch, the research relating to the biology of ageing seems to have been omitted from the proposed health care plans, which can have a huge impact in the long term well-being of patients.