Funding aging research ‘more urgent’ than cancer research

BSRA chairman calls for greater funding of aging research in the UK in order to impact many diseases at once.

Since launching its fundraising campaign to boost funding for research on the biology of aging, the British Society for Research on Ageing (BSRA) is making steady progress. However, its chairman says there is still a long way to go before aging research in the UK is given the same level of attention as research into specific diseases – attention the field urgently needs.

Longevity.Technology: The case for funding aging research is a strong one. Aging is the primary risk factor for a host of major diseases, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and arthritis, but funding for aging research in the UK is paltry compared with the hundreds of millions poured into research focused on individual diseases. BSRA chairman David Weinkove says that the organization is now engaged with “a number of potential donors and trusts” that he hopes will lead to the level of funding needed to really make an impact. We caught up with the Durham University professor to tap into his views on the matter.

When we speak with Weinkove, he is excited to share that the BSRA has secured the backing of some significant industry players, including Altos Labs, Calico, Abbvie, and Insilico Medicine, as sponsors for its upcoming annual Scientific Meeting. Boasting an impressive list of speakers including Calico’s Cynthia Kenyon, Mayo Clinic’s Joao Passos, and Altos Labs’ Manuel Serrano, the BSRA’s main event of the year promises to be its biggest ever – and further evidence of the huge interest in aging research today.

More aging research needed

While optimistic about the positivity around longevity and aging globally, Weinkove is also realistic about the funding challenges facing aging research in Britain.

“There’s a lot of hype and interest in aging at this time, but the voice of aging researchers in the UK isn’t being heard,” he says. “We’ve got some great aging researchers in this country, but they’re held back by a lack of funding. Yes, there is some government funding, which is great, but it’s just not at the kind of scale that we need.”

Acknowledging that humanity’s understanding of aging has progressed significantly in recent years, Weinkove stresses there is still much more work to be done.

“We still don’t really understand what it is we need to do to slow aging,” he says. “There are a few clues, but we need to find out more – we need to find new ways of doing it, and we need to find ways that are safe.”

Aging studies are costly

A key issue in the aging field is that studies require more time and money than in other areas of science.

“Even to do a simple aging project in mice, you’re talking at least a million pounds, and most grants don’t even fund that level,” says Weinkove. “We need to be able to fund lots of those studies every year to be able to start making a real impact. It’s so important – in fact, you could argue it’s more urgent than funding research into individual diseases.”

And Weinkove doesn’t think he and his colleagues in aging research are the only ones who believe this – the message is starting to resonate in the wider population.

“I think there’s an interest and a sense of urgency out there, because we’ve got an aging population,” he says. “There’s a lot of people in their 50s and 60s, and younger, that are relatively healthy, but are worried about their impending aging and want to see the science progress towards something that’s going to help them keep healthy.”

Slowing aging will slow disease

Tapping into this urgency is something that Weinkove thinks could help the BSRA move aging research in the UK to a new level.

“Slowing aging should slow most diseases, but if the government isn’t going to provide the kinds of transformative amounts of funding needed to achieve a step change in aging research, perhaps the general public will,” he says. “People often put money into cancer research charities because they have been affected by cancer in some way. Right now, there isn’t an outlet to do that for aging, but we want to become that.”

While Weinkove doesn’t expect the BSRA to become the equivalent of a cancer or Alzheimer’s charity overnight, he believes there are a lot of “pretty healthy, older people” that might consider donating to aging research.

“We want to engage with them and hopefully some of them will support the research that’s going on, which can potentially make a difference for them, and for people younger than them,” he says. “The time is right, if anything, it’s a little bit on the late side, but we can’t wait around for government to do something. We must start building the infrastructure, building the momentum, and getting people aware of the fact that there is an option out there to fund this kind of research.”