100,000 people die every day from age-related diseases – i.e. those deadly diseases (cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease), the risk of which increases with age in geometric progression due to a number of already known biological processes, which are collectively called “aging“.
Premature loss of productivity, disability and death of Canadian citizens, occurring due to aging lead to enormous social and economic losses. Aging transforms active citizens from people who are benefiting society into people requiring state resources to maintain their ailing health. State budget losses include payments for the treatment of age-related diseases, social costs of care for the disabled, budget shortfalls due to tax losses from tax on personal income, etc.
The bulk of the costs of medical care falls on the last years of life, therefore, prolonging the health years of citizens will allow to use available funds to address other socially important tasks. It is also hard to overestimate the social benefits from additional healthy years of life of older people, which they can devote to useful social activities or to education and care for their grandchildren.
The latest developments in medical and biological sciences have led to a paradigm shift where aging is now known to be a combination of pathogenic and harmful processes, the intensity of which increases with age. Moreover, recent discoveries show that these processes can be slowed down or even reversed.
For example, caloric restriction alone increased maximum lifespan in mice by 40%; pharmacological interventions achieved an increase in lifespan by almost a third. Using gene therapy, mice lifespan was increased by more than 2 times, and that of nematode worms by over 10 times. Almost every year science is finding new animals (in 2016 – more than twenty), that exhibit a so-called “phenomenon of negligible senescence”, meaning that the probability of death and age-related diseases of these animals, unlike humans, does not increase with age, providing them with healthy longevity and a much longer life expectancy than those of species closest to them. Among them are mammals – such as the Bowhead Whale (life expectancy of more than 200 years), an African rodent called a naked mole rat (life expectancy – 31 years, unlike normal rats with 4), Brandt’s bat (life expectancy – 40 years) and the representatives of other classes of animals. Thus, to modern science it has become self-evident that aging is not an integral feature of living organisms. Moreover, scientists have already discovered dozens of drugs and other interventions that are able to extend healthy life expectancy and maximum lifespan in different animals, delaying the onset of age-related diseases and deaths associated with them.
For example, the leading cause of death in mice is breast cancer, but mice that receive anti-aging interventions develop cancer much later in life, giving the animals a longer healthy life. The need for a significant increase in aging research and intervention capacity against it to prevent age-related diseases and increase healthy life expectancy is also recognized by the international scientific community and even formed the basis for the signing of the Open Letter on Aging Research by 57 of the world’s leading scientists.
An understanding of aging as a disease is gradually entering into the global health discourse. Today, deep old age (senility) is recognized as a disease by the WHO. However, recognizing the above late-stage manifestations of aging does not resolve the underlying problem of aging. Aging as a set of reversible disease processes begins at a relatively early age and requires specific approaches to combat (control, treat, compensate) from the early stages of its development.
Aging is a global phenomenon, and the fight against it requires special medical and biological approaches, as well as government support. This corresponds to subjective factors (the degree of scientific understanding of aging processes and the methods of control and control), and objective factors – both of medical and biological nature and those related to the economy and the sociology of healthcare.
Given Canada’s exemplary track record as an international leader on humanitarian issues, it would be well-positioned to be the first country to begin an open dialog on whether age-related pathologies should be formally classified as a disease – and not just recognized nationally, but also internationally within the framework of WHO’s ICD-11, as such classification is a prerequisite for substantially increasing worldwide government funding dedicated to finding successful treatments for age-related pathologies – treatments that would greatly increase healthy lifespans. We can start by having a parliamentary hearing in Ottawa on where science is today in its understanding of what biological mechanisms cause age-related diseases and how we can fix them, and then hold public debates on whether there is enough scientific evidence to begin the process of classifying aging as a disease.
The next step could be an establishment of a National Strategy for Life Extension and a dedicated task force responsible for the coordination of scientific and practical efforts aimed at increasing longevity and fighting aging. Such a group could be established either as part of Health Canada or as a duly authorized independent scientific organization.