Is aging a disease?

Thu May 20, 2010 5:30am EDT
 
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By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) - Is aging a disease?

It's clear that the simple fact of growing older -- chronological aging -- is relentless and unstoppable. But experts studying the science of aging say it's time for a fresh look at the biological process -- one which recognizes it as a condition that can be manipulated, treated and delayed.

Taking this new approach would turn the search for drugs to fight age-related diseases on its head, they say, and could speed the path to market of drugs that treat multiple illnesses like diabetes, heart disease and Alzheimer's at the same time.

"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," said David Gems, a biogerontologist who spoke at a conference on aging in London last week called "Turning Back the Clock."

At the moment, drug companies and scientists keen to develop their research on aging into tangible results are hampered by regulators in the United States and Europe who will license medicines only for specific diseases, not for something as general as aging.

"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," said Gems.

The ability of humans to live longer and longer lives is being demonstrated in abundance across the world.

Average life expectancies extended by as much as 30 years in developed countries during the 20th century and experts expect the same or more to happen again in this century.   Continued...