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Generating the Longevity Dividend

By Sonia Arrison
Dec 1, 2006 4:00 AM PT

New scientific studies showing that it is possible to slow down the aging process are important for those interested in life extension but also key for those who want to see greater economic growth. That's because life-extending treatments generate what some call the "longevity dividend" -- an idea that deserves more attention.

Generating the Longevity Dividend

Two recent studies reported on the benefits of a compound called "resveratrol," naturally occurring in the skin of grapes and red wine. Red wine enthusiasts are always happy when scientists prove the benefits of their hobby, but this time professional athletes and baby boomers have cause to be excited, too.

Dr. Johan Auwerx and his colleagues at the Institute of Genetics and Molecular and Cellular Biology in France found that resveratrol not only protected mice from gaining weight and developing metabolic disturbances, but also doubled their physical endurance.

"Resveratrol makes you look like a trained athlete without the training," Auwerx said.

Why Live Longer?

Harvard's Dr. David Sinclair also found that resveratrol protected mice from the metabolic effects of a high calorie diet. The compound is thought to activate a group of enzymes that protect against aging and significantly prolong life.

Living longer may not appeal to some, because they fear they will simply be around longer with health problems -- but growing research on anti-aging solutions means that it will be possible to live longer in a younger biological state.

A group of scientists including S. Jay Olshansky, who is known for skepticism about aging cures, published a paper calling for a goal of decelerating human aging by seven years.

Aging is directly linked to cancer, Alzheimer's disease, and heart disease. The scientists argue that a seven-year aging delay "would yield health and longevity benefits greater than what would be achieved with the elimination of cancer or heart disease."

Many benefits would accrue if anti-aging technologies slowed the deterioration of the unprecedented numbers of humans around the world who are now approaching old age. If people stayed younger longer -- and, therefore, healthier -- they would stay in the workforce longer, need less medical and other care, and spark economic booms in "mature markets" such as travel and intergenerational transfers.

They would also be able to share their skills and experience for greater periods of time. If one assumes a lifespan limit of just over 100 years, this healthier society would shorten periods of frailty and disability before death. It sounds like a great idea, so the next question becomes one of how to fund such research.

Calling All Investors

Olshansky and his co-authors call for government funds to the tune of US$3 billion a year -- about 1 percent of the current Medicare budget. Government does not have a history of spending funds wisely, but if it is already investing cash in cancer and diabetes research -- and those funds are not going to disappear -- it does seem worth spending that money in an area that can have a greater impact.

A better way to kick-start the move toward longer and healthier lives comes from the power of the entrepreneurial spirit. The X Prize is a great example of how this can be done.

Space travel used to only be available through government programs, but since the Ansari X Prize was established, significant developments and interest in the personal spaceflight industry have materialized.

It probably won't be long until a Virgin Airways space flight is an option available to many. One hopes that the newest X Prize for Genomics will wield a similar impact on personal medicine and health, but perhaps one should specifically target aging.

Scientists have finally come to a consensus that aging is not impossible to change. It is a process that can be slowed and perhaps one day stopped. However, in order for science to help baby boomers who can still benefit from these discoveries, public and private interests need to align.

This will accelerate advances and generate a longevity dividend that will benefit everyone.


Sonia Arrison, a TechNewsWorld columnist, is director of Technology Studies at the California-based Pacific Research Institute.


NICE inContact February 12 webinar
How do you feel about government regulation of the U.S. tech industry?
Big tech companies are abusing their monopoly power and must be reined in.
Stronger regulations to protect consumer data definitely are needed.
Regulations stifle innovation and should be kept to the barest minimum.
Over-regulation could give China and other nations an unfair advantage.
Outdated antitrust laws should be updated prior to serious regulatory efforts.
Tech companies should regulate themselves to avoid government intervention.
NICE inContact February 12 webinar