Medical intervention should be employed to allow us to live longer, healthier lives, according to gerontologist Richard Faragher. Newsletter editor Jim Docking reports
I attended a U3A lecture at the Royal Society on 7 June on the subject ‘Live Longer, Live Well – Seize the Day’. The speaker was Prof Richard Faragher, professor of biological gerontology at the University of Brighton and a former chair of both the British Society for Research on Ageing and the International Association of Biomedical Gerontology.
Globally, he told us, life expectancy is now 70, compared with just 31 in 1900 – an astonishing leap in 115 years; and across the world people are likely to live, on average, to 82 years by 2100. This is due to better hygiene and advances in medicine.
However, Faragher believes that medical intervention could help us live even longer simply by ensuring that we are healthier. Besides helping us to live happier and more comfortably, such intervention would save health services trillions of pounds. Unfortunately, says Faragher, it is difficult in the UK to secure funding for research into old age.
The usual advice on ageing – as depicted in some recent TV programmes, for instance – is to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly. Faragher agrees with this advice but goes further. He is particularly interested in a substance called repamycin, a drug already available that can improve health and so lengthen lifespan by targeting ‘senescent’ cells.
Researchers have already managed to increase the lifespan of mice by an impressive 25% by deleting dysfunctional cells which build up with age and cause damage to tissue. Crucially, the organ systems of the animals were significantly less likely to deteriorate and they were less likely to develop cancers. Furthermore, this occurred without side-effects.
Faragher does not foresee a society where people live to 200 or anything approaching that. His main concern is that we enjoy old age without the impediments that so many of us suffer from. The prospect of extending the research on animals to trials on human beings is obviously very exciting. But we need to persuade grant institutions to provide the money to enable this to be done.