Miller, a pathologist at the University of Michigan, estimated that a pill mimicking the effects of calorie restriction might increase human life span to about 112 healthy years, with the occasional senior living until 140, though some experts view that projection as overly optimistic.
Such a drug has been estimated to be among the most cost-effective breakthroughs possible in medicine, providing Americans more healthy years at less expense (an estimated $8,800 a year) than new cancer vaccines or stroke treatments.
“The effects are global, so calorie restriction has the potential to help us identify anti-aging mechanisms throughout the body,” said Richard Weindruch, a gerontologist at the University of Wisconsin who directs research on the monkeys.
Many scientists regard the study of life extension as a national priority. Government census data has shown that the number of Americans 65 and older will double in the next 25 years to about 72 million by which time seniors will account for nearly 20 percent of the population, up from just 12 percent in 2003.
Four prominent gerontologists, among them Dr. Miller, published a paper earlier this year calling for the government to spend $3 billion annually in pursuit of a modest goal: delaying the onset of age-related diseases by seven years.
They asserted that this would help to lay the foundation for a healthier and wealthier country, a so-called longevity dividend.
Dr. S. Jay Olshansky, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and one of the paper’s authors said “The demographic wave entering their 60s is enormous, and that is likely to greatly increase the prevalence of diseases like diabetes and heart disease. The simplest way to positively affect them all is to slow down aging.”
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