Some of the details surprised me, but the overall conclusion did not: even modest results from anti-aging research will be more beneficial than huge results from disease specific research. This makes sense for a couple of reasons:
- Everyone ages, but only a small number of people get any specific disease.
- The low-hanging fruit have already been picked when it comes to specific diseases, but the anti-aging field is very new. There are probably lots of "easy" discoveries waiting to be made.
An analysis, from top scientists at USC, Harvard University, Columbia University, the University of Illinois at Chicago and other institutions, assumes research investment would conservatively lead to a 1.25 percent reduction in the likelihood of age-related diseases. In contrast to treatments for fatal diseases, slowing aging would have no health returns initially, but would have significant benefits over the long term. With even modest gains in our scientific understanding of how to slow the aging process, an additional 5 percent of adults over the age of 65 would be healthy rather than disabled every year from 2030 to 2060
The study showed significantly lower and declining returns for continuing the current research "disease model," which seeks to treat fatal diseases independently, rather than tackling the shared, underlying cause of frailty and disability: aging itself.
Lowering the incidence of cancer by 25 percent in the next few decades -- in line with the most favorable historical trends -- would barely improve population health over not doing anything at all, the analysis showed. The same is true of heart disease, the leading cause of death worldwide: About the same number of older adults would be alive but disabled in 2060 whether we do nothing or continue to combat cancer and heart disease individually. The findings are in line with earlier research showing that curing cancer completely would only increase life expectancy by about three years.
"Even a marginal success in slowing aging is going to have a huge impact on health and quality of life. This is a fundamentally new approach to public health that would attack the underlying risk factors for all fatal and disabling diseases," said corresponding author S. Jay Olshansky of the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois-Chicago. "We need to begin the research now. We don't know which mechanisms are going to work to actually delay aging, and there are probably a variety of ways this could be accomplished, but we need to decide now that this is worth pursuing."
The bolding above is mine. Curing cancer would only increase average life expectancy by three years? That's a surprise to me, and actually makes me worry less about cancer than I had previously.