A study led by the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics and published in this month’s issue of the scientific journal Health Affairs found that allotting funds to delayed aging research rather than individualized disease research would save the United States $7.1 trillion over the next 50 years.
The study, led by USC Schaeffer Director Dana Goldman, also included researchers from Harvard University, Columbia University and University of Illinois at Chicago. The analysts not only discovered the financial benefits of focusing on delayed aging research, but also found long-term effects these advances would have on population size. The amount of healthy adults over age 65 would increase by 5 percent per year, if more funds were spent on aging research.
Goldman said that if research on delayed aging continues, eventually human bodies could look younger than their chronological ages.
“People have long searched for the fountain of youth. We’re starting to understand at a basic cellular level how we accumulate age-related damage, the underlying biology of aging and the process of how cells grow, divide and age,” Goldman said.
Goldman noted that medical researchers have often been victims of their own achievements since advancing in the treatment for one disease usually results in the propagation of another.
“When we started looking into individual interventions for disease, we didn’t see the effect we thought we would. There were competing risks — if you save someone from one disease, they would end up getting something else,” Goldman said. “If we really want to make progress in expanding lifespan and healthy lives, we need to attack all diseases simultaneously. This is where delayed aging comes in.”
The study found that individually delaying either cancer or heart disease would not do much for the overall disabled population. Employing delayed aging research, however, will boost the amount of healthy adults older than age 65 to 11.7 million, ensuring a higher quality of life into old age.
Travis Eurick, a sophomore majoring in health promotion and disease prevention who researches Alzheimer’s disease at the USC Davis School of Gerontology, was not surprised to hear the findings.
“Our culture definitely values the concept of youth, and as the baby boomers age, we will probably see [this research] take center stage,” Eurick said. “Research funding tends to be dispersed to fashionable topics, which I think could lead, and already has led, to increased research in aging.”
Helen Ma, a sophomore majoring in international relations (global business), expressed some skepticism over the viability of a projected population size under delayed aging.
“In order for us to effect these medical advances on society, our economic system would need to catch up fast. In its current state we wouldn’t be able to support such a top-heavy future population, considering that seniors are the fastest-growing age group to date,” Ma said.
Not all students are proponents of the suggested switch of research funding from cancer studies to aging studies.
“Even though delayed aging can make a big breakthrough in the medical field, I still believe funding cancer research is important; not all diseases manifest in old age,” said Crystal Tran, a sophomore majoring in biology.
Goldman asserted that some opponents are not taking into account that a higher quality of life delays the aging process.
“Some say, ‘Why would I want to live to 100, living to 80 is good enough.’ It’s the wrong view -— if you can give people healthy life, it’s in the better interest of society,” Goldman said.
The study’s findings also offer new opportunities for students who are passionate about the field.
“It’s definitely a field of study that’s important to delve into, and it makes me more aware that these sorts of studies will come up as I get older,” said Joseph Yoo, a sophomore majoring in biochemistry. “It’s honestly making me more excited for trying out research.”