Aging as a disease

May 31, 2010 by  
Filed under AGING

My kids turned 7 the other day and typical of kids of their age, they loved having a birthday and were very happy celebrating it. Then one asked me “Is there somebody in this world who is not happy about having a birthday?” Actually there are quite a lot, I told him. Old people mainly who are not happy being reminded they are growing older.

Aging: you can’t stop it but can you fight and postpone it? But is chronological aging a disease? And if it were a disease, can it be managed and treated like a disease? In other words, can we stop the time and put aging on hold? This was the topic of a scientific conference last week aptly called “Turning Back the Clock.”

According to biogerontologist David Gems

“If aging is seen as a disease, it changes how we respond to it. For example, it becomes the duty of doctors to treat it.”

Aging is traditionally seen as a natural biological process even if many of us are not happy about it. People try to slow down the external signs of aging through cosmetic surgery. However, there are currently no drugs in the market for the treatment of aging because drug regulators only approve drugs for specific diseases and conditions but not for a general concept like aging.

Gems continued to explain:

“Because aging is not viewed as a disease, the whole process of bringing drugs to market can’t be applied to drugs that treat aging. This creates a disincentive to pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs to treat it.”

But one can point out that depression used to be a general concept but is now a valid medical condition with lots of treatment options available.

The sceptics will point out that viewing aging as a disease is just another way for pharmaceutical industries to make money, the way they make money with millions of people swallowing anti-depressants each day.

But scientists point out that aging comes with a lot of age-related diseases such as dementia, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis and cancer. Currently, medicine is trying to treat each of these specific conditions. They believe that there is a common denominator to all these and identifying and treating this common mechanism, all these conditions can be treated.

One avenue scientists are pursuing is looking at the genes of the very old people and identifying the genetic mechanisms that make them less susceptible to age-related diseases. These genes and the mechanism they control are believed to determine longevity.

According to Andrew Dillin of the Salk Institute in California and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute:

“It is … looking increasingly likely that pharmacological manipulation of these … pathways could form the basis of new preventative medicines for diseases aging, and aging itself.”

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