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The Search For Drugs That Slow Ageing - Are We There Yet? and Why Not?

Thursday, 5 December 2013 (6.30pm -8pm)

A lecture by  Richard Miller, Professor of Pathology, Medical School, University of Michigan
Chair: Linda Partridge, Professor of Genetics and Biometry, Institute of Healthy Ageing, UCL

Venue: Cruciform Lecture Theatre (LT1), followed by a drinks reception in the North Cloisters, Wilkins Building.

This lecture forms part of UCL's Festival of Ageing and has been convened by Nazif Alic and Matthew Piper: Institute of Healthy Ageing, UCL

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Nearly everyone who does medical research works on one disease at a time: cancer, or AIDS, or Alzheimer's, or what have you. One problem with this approach is that even dramatic success would do surprisingly little to improve human health: a complete cure for human cancer, for example, would extend average human lifespan by about 2.6 years, i.e. only about 3%. In contrast, biogerontologists have shown, over the last two decades, that fiddling with the basic mechanisms of aging can increase the lifespan of mice by up to 40%, i.e. about 10-fold the change you'd expect from a cancer cure in people. The healthy lifespan of mice can be increased dramatically by at least half a dozen genetic mutations, by at least two forms of dietary intervention, and more recently by at least two drugs. These discoveries refute the assumption, commonly held by most scientists and the lay public alike, that aging cannot be slowed. These new data suggest that drugs that slow aging, by delaying the wide array of diseases and disabilities that afflict old people, might help us stay as active, healthy, and productive in our 90's as we are today in our 50's.

This talk will explore three related issues: (a) why discussions of medicines to slow aging can now be taken seriously; (b) why work in this area has not (yet) become the main focus of medical researchers and their patrons; and (c) why rampant gerontologiphobia is the key obstacle to progress in human health.

Relevant reading:
Miller, R. A. 2002. Extending life: scientific prospects and political obstacles. Milbank Quarterly 80:155 – 174.

Miller, R. A. 2009. "Dividends" from research on aging – can biogerontologists, at long last, find something useful to do? J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 64:157-160.

Miller, R. A. 2009. Biology of aging and longevity. Chapter 1 in: Hazzard's Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology, 6th Edition, J. B. Halter et al., eds., McGraw-Hill, Inc., NY, pp 3 – 14. [Somewhat more technical.]

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