The Buck Institute’s CEO Eric Verdin on why longevity research has transformative power, but the field must tread carefully between the hype and the noise.
The Buck Institute is all about living better for longer – investigating and deciphering the biology of aging to end the threat of age-related disease. Aging is the number one risk factor for chronic disease, so the Buck deploys cutting edge science and technology and leading gerontologists in order to tackle it – but searching for immortality is definitely not something on its agenda.
Longevity.Technology: The Buck Institute is headed up by Dr Eric Verdin; highly cited and with a Glenn Award for Research in Biological Mechanisms of Aging, over 210 scientific papers and more than 15 patents under his belt, he is first and foremost a scientist. As longevity goes mainstream, gaining longer air time and more column inches, there is a danger that the more fringe or extreme areas of the field become the focus, rather than the efforts to improve healthspan for people living today.
We sat down with Dr Verdin, President and CEO of The Buck Institute, to discuss these concerns and find out why searching for a philosopher’s stone might be good for Harry Potter but is the wrong direction for geroscience.
Eric Verdin on…
Keeping it real
It’s not my intention to sound like the big, grumpy old man of aging research, or a naysayer killing people’s hope! There are few people who are more excited by where this field is going and the acceleration of the research than I, but I also feel we are getting ahead of our skis a little bit when I read certain statements.
“Immortality” – that word has unfortunately come back. Words like that, or statements like “don’t die” are, in my opinion, completely out of place in a scientific discourse. We are not working on immortality – frankly, it’s never going to happen. There’s no evidence it is going to happen, and I’d question whether it would even be desirable. Talking about 150, 180-year lifespans is also completely premature. It doesn’t help – sure it creates hope, it creates clicks, sells books and might sell supplements, but it’s a distraction and one that alienates us from people who are serious about biomedical research.
A transformative opportunity
But, living to 100 in good health is doable, and that’s what’s not being discussed enough – that transformation. Gaining 25 years of lifespan in good health would be transformative.
If geroscience wants to be taken seriously, by the medical world, which will be critical in bringing this revolution to patients, we need to start making statements like that and work to implement what we know and really make a difference in people’s lives.
We can talk about living to 150 until we’re blue in the face, but we’re not going to deliver it anytime soon.
We will not implement this revolution without the help of physicians, working with them, understanding what it’s like to work with patients. With all the promise of aging research, you would have though that Pharma would jump in, but they are looking at the field with a degree of skepticism and hostility. VCs have an eye for detecting the best opportunities, but not many of them are in the aging space; some are dipping their toes, but they reference the ‘hype and snake oil’ in the field. The serious scientists get drowned out by the noise of the crazy claims.