How Longevity Science Is Slowing Diseases of Aging 

Former President Jimmy Carter has lived longer than 46 other presidents in more than 230 years. At 98 years old, Carter, the 39th president, has outlived George H. W. Bush by just under four years– something that seemed unlikely in 2015, when Carter announced that cancer had spread to his brain.  

As the oldest living president and the president who has lived longest after his term in office, Carter’s most important milestone occurred in 2020, according to President Carter himself. This was when he celebrated his 75th wedding anniversary with Rosalynn Carter, which made the Carters the longest-married presidential couple in history.   

Americans Are Living Much Longer than Ever Before 

Jimmy Carter is a great example of a man who is living a long, meaningful life, in spite of his illness. Similar to Carter, many of us will experience a chronic illness in our lifetimes, and hopefully many of us will live to 98 or more. These days, this isn’t only possible. . . it’s probable with aging Americans now living longer, healthier lives. In fact, there are many people around us who live to be 100 or even 110! According to Kristen Fortney, CEO of BioAge, a biotech company developing drugs to treat diseases related to aging, “(t)hey’re very independent and not in a nursing home until a very old age. They are still mentally sharp. So there are all these walking human examples (showing) what we can do better.” 

Longevity, in Spite of Chronic Diseases 

Yes, Americans are living longer, but at the same time we are growing old with more chronic diseases than the generations before us. In fact, we now spend, on average, half our lifetime in declining health and one-fifth of our lifetime managing a chronic disease.  

According to research, after age 65, most people have two or more chronic diseases. US adults in their 60s and 70s take up to five different prescription medications at a time. And what helps one condition may worsen another. If one disease is managed, the patient can continue living until the next one pops up, after which this process is repeated. For that reason, some researchers believe that curing one chronic disease might add only about three years of life because another disease will show up. 

Some researchers believe that through addressing aging itself, diseases related to aging can be pushed back and possibly prevented. This would mean living healthier, longer, better quality lives. A recent article in USA Today shows how longevity science looks to slow diseases associated with aging, and where we are with some of the medical interventions, such as drugs to aid in the process. Here are some of the findings: 

Senolytic drugs are a class of small molecule drugs being researched to determine if they can selectively induce death of senescent (old) cells and improve health in humans. A goal of this research is to discover or develop agents to delay, prevent, alleviate, or reverse age-related diseases.  Senolytic drugs include these existing drugs used for other purposes: 

  • Metformin (designed primarily to lower blood sugar helping by restoring the body’s response to insulin);  
  • Acarbose (also designed to lower blood sugar, by preventing the breakdown of starch into sugar); and  
  • Rapamycin (designed primarily to suppress and regulate the immune system, especially after an organ transplant, and to treat tumor-based cancers, prevent organ rejection).  

These and other senolytic drugs may be instrumental in helping us to live longer.  

Some people just age more slowly than others. They look younger than their peers and get chronic disease later than the average person. What are their secrets? 

Kristen Fortney’s company BioAge uses AI to analyze the molecular features of people who live the healthiest, longest lives and applies that knowledge to the development of drugs and therapies that could help others live longer. “They figured out how to do it,” Fortney said. “By studying their biology, we might learn clues to help the rest of us get there.”  

In addition to studying the biology of people with existing longevity, Bioage and other companies are testing the ability of senolytic drugs to postpone or prevent the onset of debilitating diseases and therefore, prolong our lives. Several senolytic drug studies are under way:  

– Rapamycin 

    • Rapamycin is an antifungal approved by the FDA as an immune suppressor to prevent organ recipients from rejecting a new organ.  
    • Giving rapamycin to yeast, worms, flies, and mice prolonged their lives, studies have shown 
    • Scientists began exploring rapamycin’s anti-aging effects in people, and studies suggest this immune-suppressing compound can actually improve immune function in older adults, boosting their response to flu shots and lowering their odds of getting severely ill during cold and flu season. 
    • Additional studies in mice have suggested that rapamycin may have beneficial effects on age-related cognitive decline and improve function of the heart and ovaries. The drug may also affect periodontal disease. Mice treated with rapamycin had less gum inflammation and even regrew bone around their teeth. But that doesn’t mean rapamycin will work in people. 
    • Researchers started several clinical trials to test the effects of rapamycin in humans. However, there are many challenges in testing these interventions in humans. Because people age slowly, it could take decades to learn whether a drug improves health span.  

– Metformin

  • One clinical trial aims to prove that aging is something that can be targeted and treated. It involves metformin, long used to treat Type 2 diabetes. 
  • People with diabetes who took the drug outlived people who did not have diabetes and did not take the drug, according to a study. Metformin is inexpensive, costing $20 for 60 pills! 
  • In a trial called Targeting Aging With Metformin (TAME), researchers will track 3,000 adults 65 to 80, who will take the drug for six years. The goal is to see if metformin can prevent or delay three age-related diseases: dementia, heart disease, and cancer. This will show if metformin can increase health span. If the trial succeeds, it may show that drugs to target aging don’t need to be expensive and can be available to more people.   
  • Basic research and studies of potential interventions are underfunded, particularly for generic drugs like metformin that don’t generate a lot of money for drug companies. 

Other Senolytic Drugs 

  • Several efforts are already under way to test senolytics (over-the-counter medication such as quercetin) in specific age-related diseases such as macular degeneration, diabetes, obesity, and Alzheimer’s. 
  • Instead of shutting off signals from senescent cells that cause inflammation, like rapamycin does, this treatment seeks out and kills these cells.  

Drugs for Muscular Atrophy 

  • Another drug — BGE-105 – being tested is for muscle atrophy. As we get older, we lose muscle mass, and after age 30, the body begins to lose up to 3–5 percent of muscle mass a decade. Most men will lose about 30 percent of their muscle mass during their lifetimes. Less muscle means increased risk of falls, which are a major cause of accidental death in older people. 
  • BioAge has already showed that its drug prevented muscle atrophy in elderly on bedrest. The company now is moving to the next phase of the clinical trial.  

Trying to prove a drug can extend health span is a long and expensive process because randomized clinical trials for longevity in people take years. Instead, many companies in the field test a drug first for its ability to treat a specific illness. Once the drug is approved for that one illness, it may go through clinical trials again to test it broadly and see if it can treat other conditions.   

Despite the exciting developments in his field, Fortney cautions against expecting too much. “There’s not going to be a silver bullet where you just take one drug and suddenly your life changes by 50 years,” Fortney said. “But I do believe−and this is just a hunch−that adding 10 or 20 years to average health span is going to be within the near-term possibility from what we’re working on here.” 

The Importance of Exercise and a Healthy Lifestyle Can’t Be Stressed Enough! 

Exercise is one intervention that can influence the biology of aging and is accessible to almost everyone. In fact, someone who is fit, exercises, never smokes, and drinks very little can expect to gain nine additional years without chronic diseases! A person with an unhealthy lifestyle, who smokes, drinks, and does no exercise will have a shorter life expectancy and will be more prone to bone fractures as they age. So, do what you can to stay healthy and exercise as often as possible as you get older! 

More Information on the Keys to Longevity 

Throughout the years, many experts have weighed in on keys to aging and longevity and things we can do to live longer. Read my longevity articles and check out these longevity calculators for more information about aging and longevity, research and studies on the subject, and things you can do to live the longest, healthiest life possible!    

Plan Ahead for Peace of Mind  

Remember, as you’re doing what you can to maximize your longevity, it is also a good idea to plan for the always uncertain future of yourself and your loved ones.   

If you have not done Incapacity Planning, Long-Term Care Planning, or Estate Planning (or had your Planning documents reviewed in the past three to five years), now is a good time to plan or update to make sure your legal and financial house is in order! Among other services, we offer peace of mind through our four levels of lifetime protection planning:        

Level 1 — Incapacity Planning protects your assets from lifetime probate, also known as guardianship/conservatorship.        

Level 2 — Revocable Living Trust Estate Planning protects your assets from lifetime probate and after-death probate.        

Level 3 — Living Trust Plus® Asset Protection Planning protect your assets from probate, lawsuits, and long-term care expenses.    

Level 4 – Life Care Planning, Medicaid Asset Protection, and Veterans Asset Protection provides comprehensive planning and filing services anytime someone is beyond the first step of the Aging Continuum.

Please contact us whenever you are ready to ensure that you have the appropriate level of planning:  

Northern Virginia Elder Law Attorney: 703-691-1888               
Fredericksburg, VA Elder Law Attorney: 540-479-1435               
Rockville, MD Elder Law Attorney: 301-519-8041               
Annapolis, MD Elder Law Attorney: 410-216-0703     
Washington, DC Estate Planning: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.