What has age to do with ability? 2

January 4, 2008

I agree with Guy Brown that ageing is the challenge facing our society in this century and that research to overcome that challenge is grossly underfunded ("Long life's journey into death", December 7). But the very bleakness of the picture he paints may in part explain why the funding gap exists in the first place.

Faced with statistics apparently showing that increases in lifespan comprise nothing but "meagre increments of un-enjoyed life", the automatic instinct of Government is not to pump money into ageing research but to cease activity altogether for fear of making a bad situation worse. After all, who wishes to exhaust the public purse to make more of the public endure longer, more miserable lives than ever before? This is clearly not the response Brown expects, but I know from experience that it is a common one to the arguments he articulates.

Fortunately, a broader view of available epidemiological evidence suggests that increasing lifespans are associated with increasing proportions of healthy life. In addition, techniques that lengthen the lives of experimental animals as diverse as flies, worms and mice do so by increasing healthy lifespan. These studies are of particular value because they are independent of the many variables that bias the study of human populations.

Ironically, it is precisely the study of the fundamental biology of ageing that is suffering the greatest funding neglect and is likely to be the least helped by prophecies of "grey doom".

Richard Faragher
Reader in gerontology
Brighton University.

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