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Changing demographics warrant solid longevity foundation

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EU Green Paper on Ageing is a wish list, but the European Longevity Initiative is proposing a foundation first.

Back in January, the European Commission today presented a green paper to launch a “broad policy debate on the challenges and opportunities of Europe’s ageing society”. Setting out the impact of this pronounced demographic trend across both economy and society, the EU opened a public consultation and invited the public to express their views.

Longevity.Technology: Debating aging and healthy longevity, and how we frame a response that includes catering for an aging population, promoting healthy lifestyles, funding healthcare, ensuring access and supporting, regulating and funding research, absolutely falls within the purview of government. We are glad to see discussion of longevity, its drivers and bottlenecks, promoted at this level. Since aging affects everyone, it is only right that everyone should have the chance to have an input, perhaps shaping policy that will directly affect their future self.

As we identified in our recently launched Longevity Supplements report, 1 in 4 Europeans could be aged over 65 by 2050:

UN Longevity Data

This Green Paper, and the public consultation, encourages that debate, and one of the groups responding to the call is the European Longevity Initiative (ELI), an organisation set up by Attila Csordas, the aging biologist, proteomics bioinformatician and longevity philosopher. As the public consultation period nears its end, we are delighted to share ELI’s position on the Green Paper on Ageing, in an Opinion Piece by Csordas based on the consensus of the European Longevity Initiative.

 


 

By publishing the Green Paper on Ageing in January, 2021, the EU has launched a 12 week public debate initiative on long-term sustainable policy choices to address the challenges of the changing demographics.

In this Opinion Piece we summarise the position of the European Longevity Initiative, ELI for short, on the Green Paper on Ageing and provide the most important policy changes we think are needed to address the changing demographics that were omitted from the official EU Green Paper.

The European Longevity Initiative is an advocacy group that is promoting legal, budgetary, regulatory and institutional support for science intensive healthy longevity technologies in the European Union. Currently it has representatives from 13 EU countries [1] at the time of writing, who are working on an EU Citizen’s Initiative proposal aiming to collect 1 million signatures to promote this timely cause.

A good Summary of Green Paper on Ageing can be found on the European Parliament portal:

“The paper highlights the importance of healthy and active ageing and lifelong learning as the two concepts that can enable a thriving ageing society. Active ageing necessitates promoting healthy lifestyles throughout our lives, including consumption and nutrition patterns, as well as encouraging physical and social activity. Lifelong learning means a constantly acquiring and updating of skills helping people to remain employable and succeed in job transitions.”

 


 

“We are crystal clear about the meaning of the new consensus paradigm in aging research concerning the malleability of the process and the translational geroscience paradigm aiming to act upon it.”

 


 

 

Active ageing and lifelong learning are important, obvious, and attractive ideas but we would argue that without really addressing the underlying problem of accelerated biological aging and functional decline giving rise to the fundamental problem related to the demographic challenges promoting these ideas alone and proposing them as the remedy is akin to trying to build a house without a foundation.

The three biggest problems of the current Green Paper on Ageing are all rooted in the missed opportunity of learning from and applying the latest biomedical, scientific and technological results. This way the potential effect of this most decisive scientific and technological trend is rendered invisible concerning the changing demographics and hence actually and actively downplaying the role science and technology might play in the long term permanent solution.

Here are the three missing points of particular concern of the current Green Paper on Ageing, and these are exactly the three top points emphasised by ELI’s own suggestions [2].

1. The Green Paper on Ageing is missing the elephant in the room behind changing demographics affecting Europe (and the world): the real, life-compromising burden of accelerated biological aging in the second half of life, already in middle age and reaching its climax in older people.

2. The Green Paper on Ageing appears oblivious to science’s current view on the malleability of the biological aging process, and the scientifically already mainstream translational geroscience paradigm that offers an interventionist approach to potentially slow/stop/reverse/rejuvenate these aging processes in order to significantly increase healthy human lifespan.

3. Due to the previous 2 points the Green Paper on Ageing ignores the number #1 long-term policy solution of the demographic challenge: supporting the focused development and equitable access of science-intensive healthy longevity technologies for all EU citizens.

In stark contrast with this the European Longevity Initiative operates on these very three principles.

Attila Csordas
Attila Csordas, the aging biologist, proteomics bioinformatician and longevity philosopher.

1. Empathy: We wish to raise awareness of the actual burden brought about by biological aging in compromising the life of older and even middle-aged people.

2. Science (Latest and Applied): We are crystal clear about the meaning of the new consensus paradigm in aging research concerning the malleability of the process and the translational geroscience paradigm aiming to act upon it.

3. Comprehensive Solution: We know that the only comprehensive and permanent solution sufficient to handle the demographic challenges are science-intensive healthy longevity technologies slowing down biological aging processes in a combined manner to extend functional, healthy lifespan as much as possible. Only by maximising this trend can we enable and expect healthy and active ageing and lifelong learning.

We stand by these principles as our core group consists of people in the worldwide longevity community from a diversity of backgrounds that matter when it comes about thinking deeply and comprehensively on the problem. We also think that one crucial way to lessen the all-pervasive institutional ageism affecting all parts of the society is to enable greater workforce and societal involvement via a scientific-technological action plan leveraging these translational developments and reaping the longevity dividend by harnessing the immense experience and value of older generations’ active involvement for everybody

What policies do we suggest?

Four different kinds of policies, with four different corresponding set of actions.

We would like to propose effective legal, budgetary, regulatory and institutional commitments to enable science intensive healthy longevity research and technologies, large scale aging focused clinical trials and systematic use of “altruist” health databases to increase healthy life expectancy in the European Union.

1. legal commitment: acknowledge the malleability of biological aging & the translational geroscience paradigm as the ultimate enabler of age-neutral human health in the EU’s legislative DNA. This specific EU legislation then can be used to justify the other 3 derivative commitments throughout.

2. budgetary commitment: A sizeable proportion of the EU R&D budget dedicated specifically for developing science intensive healthy longevity technologies.

3. regulatory commitment: Green light for Europe-wide aging focused geroprotective clinical trials by specific, enabling EMA regulation.

4. institutional commitment: setting up a coordinated European Institute for Healthy Longevity research in EU member states, backed by the previous 3 commitments.

 


 

“The pandemic showed what public health can achieve based on the latest scientific trends and with the cooperation of governments and private industry…”

 


 

 

An additional and relevant addendum to all three points is that while the Green Paper admits, on page 2, that ‘the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on older people – in terms of hospitalisations and deaths – has highlighted some of the challenges an ageing population poses on health and social care’ it again does not interpret this as a motivation to address the root problem, the compromising damage of biological aging, behind those COVID related deaths. On the other hand the pandemic efforts yielded several unprecedented biotechnological breakthroughs most importantly related to shortening the life-cycle of vaccine development, clinical trials and scaling up the production and delivery of vaccines, world-wide. It showed what public health can achieve based on the latest scientific trends and with the cooperation of governments and private industry. We interpret these results as another strong and timely reason to promote science-intensive healthy longevity to address the demographic changes.

To highlight the analogy with the current unprecedented pandemic related technological breakthroughs these interventions assessed and offered for their effectiveness of slowing down biological aging can be considered healthy longevity ‘vaccines’ to prevent and manage a particular set of accelerated biological aging processes.

This ELI opinion piece is published alongside with a longer background material called EU Green Paper on Ageing: Detailed commentary.

EU Green Paper on Ageing

Together these two documents would like to provide further important talking points to the public debate on ageing launched by the EU. We would like to propose foundations for the current wish list.

Hopefully the final version of the Green Paper on Ageing will contain suggestions that are going to be appreciative for the proposed long term policy solution to address the demographic challenges ahead and that is supporting the focused development and equitable access of science-intensive healthy longevity technologies for all EU citizens.

[1] Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Slovenia, Spain, Poland, Republic of Ireland.
[2] Please read the accompanying EU Green Paper on Ageing: Detailed commentary by the ELI that is attached as a pdf for a detailed argumentation on why and how the EU draft has missed recognising the relevance of these points.

Image courtesy of Attila Csordas

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Eleanor Garth
Deputy Editor Now a science and medicine journalist, Eleanor worked as a consultant for university spin-out companies and provided research support at Imperial College London and various London hospitals in a former life.
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