A leading expert on the effects of ageing told U3A members how he had failed to get funding to test a drug that could help older people stay healthier longer.
Professor Richard Faragher from the University of Brighton said that tests on mice using an auto-immune drug had had startling results. The mice had increase their life span by a fifth and had been able to run faster and longer and with greater mobility.
But when Prof Faragher sought funds to investigate the findings and test them on humans the NHS refused support.
“They would not fund the research because the drug is already in use for other things,” he said. “They said they would fund two placebos, which isn’t much use without the main drug.”
Drug companies were also unwilling to invest because the drug involved is out of patent and therefore they would make no money from it.
Prof Faragher said this was a pity because the findings had been very encouraging. The drug was able to boost the body’s tumour suppression mechanism which meant that older people were less likely to develop cancer and other diseases associated with ageing.
He was speaking at the South East U3A Forum conference held in East Grinstead this week.
He explained that the issues surrounding ageing were important because people were living so much longer. Globally life expectancy in 1900 was just 31, rising to 48 in 1950 and 70 in 1990. By the end of the 21st century it would be 82.
But as people got older they were more likely to develop illnesses. When questioned researchers found that retired people were most likely to be miserable if they had health problems.
“Seventeen per cent of people were described as ‘satisfied innovators’. They tended to be middle class, went to the gym, were interested in change and kept up to date.
“By contrast those described as bored and depressed were socially isolated and likely to watch a lot of tv – but crucially they had poor health.”
Thus research was being centred on trying to keep older people healthy. Prof Faragher said that the top 10 killer conditions, such as heart disease and cancer, were age related.
U3A national chairman Pam Jones outlined her work and described changes being considered by the National Executive committee to keep the organisation thriving.
She said that some ideas had been discussed and would be explained in the next edition of Third Age Matters. Members would then have the chance to comment on the proposals and also to put forward their own ideas for improvements.