Dr. David Sinclair and two prominent economists, Andrew J. Scott of the London Business School and Martin Ellison of the University of Oxford, have released a paper arguing that slowing aging can bring gargantuan economic benefits – an order of magnitude bigger than previously thought. The paper was published in Nature Aging and uses a powerful economic model to investigate the financial aspects of increased longevity. The paper is built around a model known as the Value of Statistical Life (VSL). While this question had been raised before by the proponents of the Longevity Dividend, or LD theory, such as Jay Olshansky, the new paper employs a different methodology and arrives at different results, albeit reinforcing LD’s point. The authors offer four scenarios corresponding to four different hypothetical ways in which life expectancy can be increased, cleverly naming the scenarios after famous fictional characters. The first one is named after Struldbruggs, one of the many strange peoples Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver encounters during his travels. The name Struldbrugg is given to those humans in the nation of Luggnagg who are born seemingly normal but are in fact immortal. Just one minor detail though, Struldbruggs have discovered the secret of eternal life but not of eternal youth or health. Therefore, Struldbruggs’ health diminishes indefinitely as they age, making them miserable and longing for death. This first scenario is about extending the human maximal lifespan without a similar effect on healthspan. The authors then analyze the economic value of this particular type of life extension according to VSL. The second is the “Dorian Grey scenario”, named after Oscar Wilde’s character who retained good health and youthful looks until his timely death. This scenario corresponds to increasing healthspan without noticeably affecting lifespan. The third scenario is named after Peter Pan – a character who ages, albeit very slowly. In this scenario, both health span and lifespan are increased, which corresponds to slowing aging. This scenario is the preferred one in terms of VSL and is precisely what geroscience is all about. The fourth scenario, called Wolverine - named after the X-Men character - imagines treatments that reverse aging. Some novel approaches currently in development such as parabiosis, senolytics, thymic rejuvenation, stem cells, exosomes, gene therapy, and cellular reprogramming aim specifically at repairing the damages of aging. The authors apply their model to an actual intervention that most probably works according to the Peter Pan scenario: metformin. According to the paper, if metformin, a cheap, safe, and readily available drug, lives up to current estimates, its use as an anti-aging drug can bring enormous economic benefits. The authors have calculated that just one year of average lifespan extension done by the “Peter Pan way” – i.e., by slowing aging – will bring the US economy a benefit of 38 trillion US dollars, and a 10-year gain would be a staggering 370 trillion US dollars. This is an order of magnitude larger than the previous estimates done by LD theorists.
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SOURCES AND FURTHER READING
The Enormous Economic Benefits of Targeting Aging: https://www.lifespan.io/news/the-enormous-economic-benefits-of-targeting-aging/
“The economic value of targeting aging” on Nature: https://www.nature.com/articles/s43587-021-00080-0
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