Aging research is still an emerging field, and its emergence has been laden with difficulties. Until recently, the budgets were scarce, the ideas ridiculed, and public involvement nonexistent. The tide is turning, with more private and institutional players eager to spend money and effort on the noble goal of extending human lifespan and healthspan. Still, our community needs to widen its recently gained foothold in the public consciousness. Popularizing the ideas and achievements of the great people working in our field can put more pressure on policymakers, regulators, and investors to advance our cause.
A good way to achieve this is with an introductory book. While David Sinclair’s “Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To” is an excellent introduction to the topic, the niche is far from being full. Breanna Deutsch provides a differently focused introduction with her new book, “Finding the Fountain: Why Government Must Unlock Biotech’s Potential to Maximize Longevity”. As someone coming from the field of politics and PR, after several years in various communications positions on Capitol Hill and now in the Heritage Foundation, Breanna provides a fresh angle and a good understanding of political and regulatory issues.
However, contrary to what its title may suggest, “Finding the Fountain” is about much more than regulation and policy. Most of the book is dedicated to a concise and straightforward explanation of the nine hallmarks of aging and of the general state of affairs in longevity research. While people more familiar with the field might not find a trove of new information here, newcomers to the field will find it illuminating, especially since this excellently written and deliberately simplified account is interspersed with personal stories of the field’s leaders, such as Irina Conboy, Steve Horvath, and Aubrey de Grey.
Deutsch does not shy from recounting the problems that longevity research has to deal with, including the lack of governmental funding and the difficulty of conducting clinical trials, and, as she explains, both of these problems at least partially stem from aging not being considered a disease. Of course, the debate on whether aging is a disease is far from settled within the longevity community itself, but Deutsch explains the problems that result from not considering it to be one. Institutions such as the National Institute of Health have a harder time funding aging research, while drugs and therapies must be developed and tested against “real” diseases and not aging per se.
Deutsch holds that the TAME (Targeting Aging with Metformin) study is a possible blueprint for other studies. TAME is unusual because its yardstick includes age-related diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, stroke, diabetes, cancer, cognitive decline, and the occurrence of death. With this composite approach, what researchers really study, albeit indirectly, is the effect that metformin has on aging itself. It is also important that researchers continue to develop reliable clocks for measuring biological age and to persuade the scientific community that these clocks can be used in clinical trials.
A hefty part of the book is dedicated to discussing common arguments against life extension. Deutsch expertly deals with misconceptions such as “people living longer will crush our healthcare system”. On the contrary, she counters, to fight aging is to fight age-related diseases that account for the lion’s share of the burden on an already overstressed system. One of the book’s few shortcomings is that, being aimed at the US market, “Finding the Fountain” mostly discusses the current American healthcare system while avoiding international comparisons. On the other hand, aging poses similar problems for all healthcare systems.
Amidst the book, Deutsch vividly describes the difference between suffering through misery and frailty through the last years or even decades of your life and staying vibrant, productive, and curious, capable of enjoying the company of your loved ones and the world around you. It is good to be reminded from time to time what longevity research is all about.
“Finding the Fountain” is as important as it is short. Its conciseness is its superpower. If you have a friend or a relative that you would like to introduce to the longevity field, if you need ammunition for advancing our cause, or if you are looking for a better understanding of the political and regulatory issues that surround it, this book might be for you.