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Is There Really a Fountain of Youth?

The Hype vs. the Hope of Antiaging Research

Antiaging Products: The Hype continued...

At the conference, co-hosted by The American Federation for Aging Research and The Gerontological Society of America, researchers also debated whether aging is a disease that needs to be treated or stopped.

Rather than searching for the fountain of youth to transform older people into a younger version of themselves, researchers say efforts should be focused on improving and extending the period of health and vigor and reducing frailty and disability at all ages.

"What we should be pursuing is way to slow down the biological process of aging rather than stopping it. Delay is the operative word, stopping or reversing should not be in our vocabulary," says Olshansky.

"If we succeeded in delaying aging the bonus would likely be an extension of life," says Olshansky, "but more importantly, in my view, dramatic reductions in health care costs and improvements in public health at all ages."

But researchers lamented the fact that only a small fraction of the funding for research on age-related diseases is spent on actually understanding the process of aging itself.

"The greatest risk factor for age-related diseases is age, yet research on this, the greatest risk factor for all leading causes of death, is ignored," says Hayflick.

But Olshansky says the public health benefits of achieving even a minor delay in the aging process would be even greater than curing cancer.

Antiaging Research: The Hope

Although researchers are a long way from providing a pill that can help you live a longer and healthier life, they are making progress.

"The hope, from my point of view, is not that there is a secret compound that people already know of which if injected will slow aging down," says Richard Miller, MD, PhD, associate director for research at the geriatrics center at the University of Michigan. "The hope is that we now have animal experimental systems in which aging really can be slowed and experiments that can get at the basic biology of aging and how it is related to diseases."

"Although we don't know how those experiments will come out, and we don't know what the answers are, we now have some really exciting things from which answers can reasonably be expected to emerge," says Miller.

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