The Quest To Redefine Aging And The Buck Institute

Although to many people aging is already a pressing issue, with a population of baby boomers now entering retirement, the challenges of caring for those with age-related disease are larger than ever before. With so much 'sick care', it seems the merit of preventative measures is becoming clearer; a healthier population costs less to prop up and investing in healthspan makes practical as well as moral sense.  

Founded 16 years ago, the Buck Institute is an independent research facility in Novato, California and it's mission is to improve your healthspan. Although already a prominent player in the anti-aging world, a new partnership with Google's Calico enables it to move beyond National Institute funding and expand its work. 

“Given the Buck’s exclusive focus on aging,” said Hal Barron, president of research and development at Calico, “we believe that there’s great potential to increase our understanding of the biology of aging and to accelerate the translation of emerging insights into therapies to help patients with age-related diseases.”

One study being undertaken is attempting to find analogues of the drug rapamycin, which might have some of the same life-extending properties without the side effects. This is similar to progress with opiate painkillers; by altering a few chemical groups heroin becomes morphine and morphine becomes codeine - a safer, less addictive drug with minimal side effects. Recent work at the Buck Institute also contributed to hope that intermittent dosage might also be effective. In a wide range of research, other routes of study include work on progeria, a premature aging disease, Parkinson's, stem cell biology and genomic stability. 

Whilst private funding has increased, US government funding for aging hasn't risen since the millenium. Brian Kennedy, CEO of the institute, thinks research culture and attitudes in America might be to blame in today's struggle to obtain more national investment. 

“When I go and argue for more funding,” Kennedy said, “I can’t say we are going to do science for science’s sake. You get put in an insane asylum if you say that,” he said. “But precisely that spirit of pure inquiry is what drove huge technology advances. People explore and find interesting things. It’s a sad indictment in the wealthiest country in the world — you can’t make that case anymore,” he said. “The anti-­intellectual movement in this country is very dangerous. When I go to China, I hear people’s imaginations at work. When I talk to scientists in the U.S., I hear, how do I write my grant?”

Some of the struggles with aging research is that 'aging' itself is not yet classified as a disease and so becomes difficult to fund. Whether governments increase funding or not, more private investment is therefore needed; although it's a risk the pay off could be revolutionary. It could be that with Calico's formation, we're beginning to see an increase in anti-aging investment. 

“Aging research is an adventure in something completely different,” he said. “We know it’s going to work. It’s time to implement it. We have this huge paradox. The promise of this field is great — the next medical revolution. There’s no money. It’s a big challenge. Meanwhile we are spending 19 percent of our (federal) budget on health care. It’s not even effective.”
 

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