Funding crisis in aging research: Are we sending the wrong message?
Nature recently published a News Feature titled “Funding crisis hits US ageing research”. The article begins with the promising header “Shortfalls hamper scientists' efforts to address a predicted epidemic of age-related diseases”. Unfortunately, from there it goes on to focus primarily on why not enough money is being spent on Alzheimer's disease rather than the bigger issue, which is how much less is being spent on understanding the basic biology of aging. Many scientists in the field already feel that a disproportionate amount of the NIA budget is spent on Alzheimer's disease research, and that this is hampering progress in understanding the basic mechanisms of aging. Whether this is true or just a natural response to the intense competition for limited NIA dollars, it is certainly the case that interventions to slow aging are potentially much more powerful than an intervention that cures just one disease.
The real biomedical promise of aging-related research is not a cure for Alzheimer's disease (which probably isn't even possible), but the ability to retard the progression of multiple age-associated diseases at the same time. Not only do you get a much bigger increase in life expectancy from slowing aging (relative to curing Alzheimer's or cancer or diabetes alone), but that increase comes in the form of healthy, productive years. In my opinion, this is the message that needs to get out. Hopefully, those of us who study the biology of aging and the journalists who write about it can do a better job of this in the future.