More pressure to include the aging processes as a disease from a number of important scientists. This time Sweden is the focus for the push to have aging included in their disease classification with an article in the press by biologist and activist Victor Bjoerk.
Now you may agree or disagree that the various processes of aging are diseases per se, however, from a research point of view classifying them within the international classification for diesease (ICD) at the World Health Organization will allow researchers to treat age-related diseases far more directly. So either way if you think we should find effective cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and so on then the rest is largely a matter of pedantics. The important thing is making it easier for researchers to do what they need to do and find ways to deal with diseases that have plagued us for centuries.
The following is a translation of the original article and is published here with the persmission of Victor.
Most of us today have gotten used to the idea that we are are remaining healthier and living longer than our ancestors. However, today the increase in life expectancy in Sweden has almost stopped. A number of respected academics now propose, that in order for us to move beyond current limits, research must target the most important cause, the most common deadly disease: aging.
More than 90 percent of everyone who dies in Sweden today are older than 65 years of age. But less than 1 percent of swedish people reach 100. Between 65 and 100 years of age the vast majority die from cardiovascular diseases, cancer and degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Many older people also have not only one, but several age-related diseases. Each one of these diseases has its root in the aging process, the gradual accumulation of damage that happens on a molecular, cellular, organ and organismal level. The older one gets, the worse the body’s ability to repair itself becomes. In summary aging is the greatest risk factor for developing the diseases that most people die from.
In the U.S there has been discussion over the last few years about classifying aging as a disease. The reason for this is due to the difficulty of initiating scientific studies that specifically target the various aging processes. As long as aging is not classified as a disease it is not possible to develop therapies that target those processes to delay or prevent age-related diseases.
Now it is time to bring the discussion to Sweden. In Sweden it is the National Board on Health and Welfare that works with the classification of diseases. To classify aging as a disease according to the National Board on Health and Welfare’s disease classification code ICD-10-SE would mean opening up the door to biomedical treatments that can target the aging processes directly.
The 2015 the american federal drug administration FDA started a large scale study called TAME to specifically test the ability of the diabetes drug Metformin to slow aging in humans. This drug has been shown to prolong the maximum lifespan around twenty percent in mice. Also the risk for developing cancer is reduced by thirty percent in patients with type 2-diabetes who take Metformin, as well as having a lower risk for cardiovascular disease than non-diabetics in the same age range. In order to be able to treat older people without specific diagnoses with Metformin the FDA has for the first time allowed a trial with the indication ”anti-aging”. This is also the first example of a treatment in humans where aging itself is the target.
Today a study like TAME would be impossible to conduct in Sweden due to the current disease classification. As a consequence no one is working on therapies to prevent age-related diseases and extend the healthy part of life with the aging process as its focus.
It may be possible to avoid enormous healthcare costs and prevent human suffering by delaying or preventing age-related diseases. The structural changes in the human body that cause age-related diseases can potentially be treated, and the consequence of this will be a physiologically younger individual that does not have a high risk of dementia or other diseases, or is in need of elderly care. Finally classifying aging as a disease means it will be easier to combat pseudoscience. Pseudoscience consists of claims, beliefs, or practices presented as being scientific, but which are not justifiable by the scientific method. Currently the word ”anti-aging” is being used for a lot of untested and dubious products within the cosmetic and the supplement industries.
During the past few years more research has been done to map the structural changes that lead to aging and understanding is improving regarding how these changes cause ill health and death. Among the pathological changes that happen there is the loss of proteostasis which leads to among other things Alzheimer’s disease and heart failure in the elderly, shortening of telomeres, loss of stem cells and an accumulation in the organs of different side products from the blood sugar metabolism. These are all markers that differ a young person from an old, and can potentially be manipulated.
Many of us have become used to the idea that we live longer but today the gain in male life expectancy in Sweden has almost stopped. There has also been no increase to the maximum lifespan, and the oldest person in Sweden today is 109 years old – an age that was already achieved during the 1980s. If we are to go beyond that it is crucial that we focus on the most important reason behind age-related diseases and classify aging as a disease.
With this as a background the following scientists petition Olivia Wigzell, director of the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare, to request the department for Classification and Terminology begin the work of adding aging as a new disease category.
PhD, associate professor of chemistry, Yale University
PhD, Loughborough University,
senior lecturer on regenerative medicine
PhD, director molecular oncology programme,
Spanish national cancer research centre, CNIO
PhD Oxford University, CEO Bioviva Sciences
PhD Oxford University, Future of Humanity Institute
Aubrey de Grey
PhD Cambridge University,
chief science officer SENS Foundation
PhD University of California, Los Angeles, AXA
PhD, CEO Insilico Medicine
BSc Molecular Biology, HEALES
MSc engineering biology, Director Åldrandefonden
Source: Translated and adapted from an original article in the Swedish press here with the permission of Victor Björk.