The ideas emerging from a 2006 workshop to discuss the present state and prospects for biogerontology in the United Kingdom have been summarized in the ambitiously titled “Ten commandments for the future of ageing research in the UK: a vision for action.”
The piece first defines aging and aging research, and then presents arguments in favor of intervention in aging (from multiple standpoints, including both social costs and the quality of individual lives). Having addressed the merits of biogerontological research, the authors go on to advocate the feasibility of meaningful translational research in the field. The close with their list of “commandments”:
- Ageing is a highly differentiated and malleable process. Therefore, the commitment must be to develop interventions that can affect the ageing process or the experience of ageing in order to extend healthy life expectancy, independence and well-being in old age.
- Investments in ageing research should be significantly increased as they are likely to produce immense gains to both the economy and society, in particular to the quality of life, productivity and self-sufficiency of the rapidly growing older population group.
- Society must recognise that improving the quality of life (QOL), of older people, including the promotion of active ageing and the eradication of ageism, is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century. This should translate into an integrated governmental policy for research on ageing as a key driver of QOL improvements.
- Ageing research should reflect the complexity of the ageing process and integrate different dimensions of research into human healthy ageing, including the biological mechanisms and the socio-economic, cultural and psychological determinants of the ageing process.
- Healthy ageing research should concentrate on early, reversible stages of pathological conditions. As many lifestyle-related chronic diseases share common pathways of early dysregulation (e.g. CVD, AD), the development of markers, diagnostic techniques and interventions that can be applied to prevent late stage disease is fundamental.
- Ageing research should build on and expand existing longitudinal cohorts. These are critical to understand longevity and must combine genetic, socio-demographic and environmental aspects. It is crucial that future efforts embrace the role of genetics in ageing research given the variability of responses of individuals to drugs, nutrients and lifestyles due to different polymorphisms.
- Ageing research should pursue ‘best practice’ early interventions by creating an evidence base for translation to society, by engaging directly with its end users and, in particular, by ensuring that older people are a key reference point.
- Research to inform the development and uptake of information technology, assistive technology and inclusive design must be implemented in the construction and design of products, homes, urban environments, public buildings and transportation systems to eradicate potentially disabling environments to functionally-limited older populations.
- The void in clear leadership, funding and representation of ageing research in the UK must be addressed. In particular, additional resources must be allocated to under-funded areas of ageing research (e.g. healthy ageing) to complement existing commitments to research aimed towards end-point chronic disease.
- It is critical that an overall ageing research portfolio is managed as a single entity across the contributing disciplines, which individually and collectively enhance understanding about the determinants and interventions that affect active ageing.
The individual line items could certainly be pithier, but taken together they’re evidence of a comprehensive and thoughtful discussion. The main take-home lesson is that several prominent scholars are making a firm stand in favor of treating aging per se, rather than waiting around for its more grievous symptoms and then treating those (at great cost both to the medical system and to patients and their families).
It will be interesting to see whether this call to arms influences the state of British funding (in whose machinations several of the authors are deeply involved, both at the level of grant review and advice to policy-makers).