Since population aging was first brought to the attention of the United Nations by the Government of Malta in 1968, our society began its journey to find adequate measures of adaptation to the growing share of older people and its impact on different aspects of social life.
However, the Vienna International Plan of Action on Ageing (1982) and the Madrid Plan of Action on Ageing (2002) didn’t list support for fundamental research on the main mechanisms of biological aging as a top priority. Nevertheless, these strategic documents created the foundation for more focused public initiatives to increase investment in aging studies, and today we are going to talk about one of them: the German Party for Health Research.
Germany is center stage for health research
In Germany, there is a long tradition of research on aging. One of the famous German scientists studying aging was Fritz Lipmann (1899-1986), who contributed substantially to our understanding of the root causes of aging by finding out the relation between metabolism, life expectancy and the reduction in energy production by mitochondria in aging organs. For his breakthrough studies, Fritz Lipmann was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1953 (together with Hans Krebs).
In 1991, the Institute for Molecular Biotechnology (IMB) was founded with a focus on basic and translational research in the area of molecular biotechnology, specifically on the diagnosis and therapy of human diseases. This institute was later renamed to the Leibniz Institute for Age Research – Fritz Lipmann Institute (FLI), and it is the oldest national research institute dedicated to research on aging in Germany.
The Max Planck Society, one of the most successful research organizations of Germany, was established in 1948. On June 28th, 2007, the Max Planck Society decided to found an institute with a focus on the problems of aging. Launched in 2008, the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing is one of Europe’s engines of basic biomedical science, contributing to a better understanding of why we age and how we could potentially manipulate the processes of aging.
Interestingly, one of the founding directors of this institute is Linda Partridge, one of the authors of the famous paper “Hallmarks of Aging”. This remarkable work was published in the journal “Cell” in 2013, and it makes a clear and detailed summary of what we know about the main underlying mechanisms of aging.
About a year ago, the global community supporting research on aging was offered another great example of what it means to be truly devoted to the cause. In July 2016, German internet entrepreneur Michael Greve donated $5 million to the SENS Research Foundation (SRF), a non-profit organization focused on transforming the way the world researches and treats age-related disease. In addition to that, he committed to providing $5 million in seed investment to startups focused on bringing rejuvenation biotechnology treatments to market.
In March 2018, the Forever Healthy Foundation of Michael Greve and the SENS Research Foundation are jointly organizing the Undoing Aging conference at the Umspannwerk Alexanderplatz in Berlin, Germany, which is expected to catalyse local and international studies on aging.
These organizations, as well as the German Association for Aging Research (DGfA), urge that much more state resources need to be invested in related R&D activities. However, the goal of finding innovative cures against age-related diseases still seems underestimated by the public in Germany, with only 4.4% of the total German R&D spending going to health research and health economy. At the same time, a survey of a German health insurance company (DAK-Gesundheit) shows that 50% of Germans are afraid of getting dementia.
It seems the only reason why the situation with state funding for medical research has not improved over time in a given country is the lack of well-organized public initiatives to support the necessary changes. The idea is rarely brought to a high level of public attention, and people are rarely offered a clear program of action that could promote the development of therapies that might bring aging under medical control and address age-related diseases.
A party for Health Research
The German Party for Health Research (Partei für Gesundheitsforschung on Facebook) was established in 2015 with two main goals: to increase the investments into age-related R&D at public research facilities and universities and to improve training programs for students in relevant areas. The party plans not to get involved in other political matters, which can be entrusted to the partners of the local political coalition.
In just one year, the impactful party has already achieved 0.5% votes in the 2016 Berlin local elections.
Such support from the general public is not surprising when demographic trends and morbidity statistics are considered. Like most countries in the world, in Germany, life expectancy at birth is increasing. It was 81 years in 2015 and is expected to rise to 87 years by 2060. People are living longer, but they don’t really enjoy these additional years, because more than 60% of all Germans aged 65 and above are suffering from at least three age-related chronic diseases.
Statistics for dementia are especially unsettling; 1.6 million Germans are suffering from dementia, with about 300,000 new cases diagnosed per year. If no therapies or powerful prevention methods are being developed, 3 million people may be affected by 2050, and this can have a dramatic impact on German society.
The country is trying to get ready for the corresponding increase in elderly care requirements. In 2015, the number of older persons in need of care was around 2.9 million, which makes about 3.5% of the total German population, and it is going to get worse as the population is aging rapidly.
These statistics are a good reason to consider what can be done to help people remain healthy as they age. It turns out that science is increasingly showing that by addressing the root causes of aging, it is possible to postpone the onset of many age-related diseases at once. Better understanding of the underlying mechanisms of age-related diseases could lead to more efficient R&D activities to create new, powerful treatments against dementia, cancer, type 2 diabetes, stroke and other pathologies.
However, science needs money, which is why the main call of the German Party for Health Research is to increase the investment into health research by an additional 1% of the government’s budget.
The Party is taking part in the next German general election, which will be held on September 24, 2017. It will be on the ballots in the states of Berlin, North Rhine-Westphalia and Bavaria, which comprise 40% of all voters in Germany.
It is still hard to say if this initiative will become a game changer for medical research or not, but one thing is clear: the German Party for Health Research has a name clearly stating its goal, it already received quite some media interest, and it has a unique slogan that a rational person cannot reject: “Together against age-related diseases”.
We would like to thank M. JiSun for kindly providing an overview of scientific research on aging and age-related diseases as well as demographic statistics in Germany for this article.