Ming Guo, the director of the UCLA Aging Center, appreciates this review for its accuracy and potential. “It recognizes aging and offers an opportunity to think that there are things we can improve,” says Guo, who is studying aging reversal strategies. “It implies that we can change our destiny to some extent.”
The work goes on regardless. Silicon Valley, which has a long history of investing in anti-aging research, has a new set of longevity-related startups such as Turn Biotechnologies and Altos Labs. Saudi Arabia plans to invest $ 1 billion annually in research to extend health span, the number of years a person remains healthy. Meanwhile, the US National Institutes of Health is actively asking scientists to apply for funding for age research. When asked about the ICD change, Luigi Ferrucci, scientific director of the National Institute on Aging, said it was “a good choice” because he supports the idea that “aging has functional consequences”.
“Research, along with the budget, has steadily increased over the past 20 years,” says Melov. “It’s not a lack of money or a semantic thing of aging as a disease or not a disease that’s holding the field back.”
Rather, what the field needs to move forward, Melov says, are investigators who ask “sharp and difficult questions” and can investigate topics when the technology they need is still in development.
He is excited about the rapid advances in technologies, such as microscopy and single-cell sequencing, which allow scientists to gain new insights into aging at the cellular level. There will likely be major breakthroughs in animal models in the next two to five years, he says. But he still wonders if we will ever have anti-aging therapy as effective as diet and exercise. “Even if we had a therapy that, let’s say, was 50 percent beneficial to a good diet and exercise, and it would be a very successful drug, it will still have side effects,” says Melov. “So would you rather exercise three times a week and eat right or take that pill?”
Belsky sees other low fruit. “If we want to slow down aging, it would be good if we could all drink clean water and breathe clean air,” he says. “This is a first step where we could actually make a lot of progress.”
Others still see great potential in the lab. Guo likes to say that he wants to reverse the aging process, but his main goal is to prevent age-related diseases to extend the life span of human health. He says that when he started talking to people about his plans five years ago, they didn’t believe it was possible to stop, let alone go back, the effects of aging. But his team had already shown that it could remove up to 95% of damaged mitochondria in fruit flies. Organelles become dysfunctional with age, which can increase an individual’s susceptibility to age-related diseases.
“This isn’t science fiction,” Guo says. “Everything is close at hand.”
Sarah Sloat is a reporter based in Brooklyn, New York.