Thymus of the essence?

(Apr 6, 2018)

We've considered cancer and its relationship to aging on a number of previous occasions. Studies published in the British Journal of Cancer in 2011 and 2018 concluded that around 40% of cases are attributable to known modifiable lifestyle and environmental factors, which is a substantial minority. Whilst risk for specific cancer subtypes will be more or less amenable to lifestyle and environment interventions than this, it is beyond doubt that the longer we live, the higher our risk of cancer becomes. But why?

A 2014 analysis of analysis of age and cancer risk proposed the view that "For most adults, age is coincidentally associated with preventable chronic conditions, avoidable exposures, and modifiable…

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Tags: longevity, research, cancer, immunotherapy, immunosenescence

Solid Progress

(Feb 8, 2018)

When we previously discussed the progress of immunotherapy within cancer treatment, some of the most exciting results were in the field of leukaemia and melanoma, with progress in other solid cancers lagging somewhat behind. In the UK, solid tumour-forming cancers account for the overwhelming majority of cancer mortality for both females and males, so similar progress in these areas could have a transformative impact on the prognosis for sufferers.

The CAR-T approaches so successful with blood cancers are undergoing active trials in the UK and have already been approved as a treatment by the US FDA. Such techniques extract, modify and reintroduce the patient's immune cells after engineering the ability…

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Tags: longevity, research, cancer, immunotherapy

Occupational Hazard

(Jan 25, 2018)

We previously considered Sir Michael Marmot's landmark Whitehall Studies, which looked at health and mortality outcomes for UK civil servants. Sir Michael continues to research UK mortality, and has recently been drawing attention to the fact that improvements in UK life expectancy appear to be slowing down. Since 2010, life expectancy, previously increasing at around one year for every four, appears to have down-shifted to one year in every six-and-a-half for men, and every ten for women. The big question, of course, is why?

It goes without saying that national populations are never homogeneous. We've seen evidence of this both within US subpopulations and between different areas in the UK. It is therefore…

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Tags: longevity, research, mortality, employment, Scotland, socio-economic group

Priority Clearance

(Nov 14, 2017)

We previously discussed the clearance of senescent cells as a plausible treatment for multiple diseases of aging. The theory goes that senescent cells drive systemic inflammation, and that this inflammation underlies aging pathology. In August 2017 the latter part of this theory was underscored by results from the CANTOS study. These showed the addition of the anti-inflammatory ACZ885 reduced major adverse cardiovascular events by 15% above the best available standard care, and also appeared to bring a 50% reduction in cancer mortality for patients on the higher dose. However, suppressing inflammation with ACZ885 carried a stark downside: a significant increase in the risk of fatal infections that…

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Tags: longevity, research, inflammation, disease

Universal Prescription

(May 26, 2017)

In April 2017 the UK Government unveiled its Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS), the first binding legislation ensuring government investment in cycling and walking provision in England. CWIS commits 1.2 billion GBP of spending by 2020/2021, coming from central and local government as well as from local enterprise partnerships. While clearly falling within transport planning, and despite being less directly revenue-friendly than the recent UK tax on sugar sweetened beverages, it is appropriate to view CWIS as a public health initiative. Indeed the foreword to the policy cites better health and improved air quality among the benefits sought by doubling cycling activity by 2025.

We'll consider…

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Tags: longevity, research, exercise, public health

Making Sense of Senescence

(Oct 23, 2016)

Historical research we discussed previously proposed that significant increases in average life expectancy would require the cure of multiple diseases of aging. Without considering the detail of cause-of-death calculations conducted more than two decades ago, it certainly seems implausible even now that we'll cross such a dramatic Rubicon in the near-term. Of course, while complete cures grab headlines, any form of simultaneous progress against aging disease could still provide substantial improvements in healthy lifespan.

One way to target simultaneous progress against multiple diseases of aging would be to find plausible common factors to act against. Increasingly, researchers believe a plausible…

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Tags: longevity, research, inflammation, disease

Cart before Horse?

(Jul 26, 2016)

Predicting the exact impact of weight upon mortality has proven to be a tricky business. That obesity is on the rise is universally acknowledged, but in recent years we have seen research studies reach differing conclusions, depending on the populations examined and the measures used. For example, there has been debate over whether the breakpoints used to analyse BMI, the most prominent weight measure are appropriate in all populations. A key issue posited, however, has been that of "reverse causality" - which in this context is usually interpreted as the failure to adjust for weight scores that are considered "healthy" under the BMI scale but in fact derive from illness-related weight-loss. The question…

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Tags: mortality, research, reverse causality, obesity, BMI

Definitions of Age

(Jun 29, 2016)

When modelling longevity, age is well-known to be a crucial risk factor. However it is also well-known that the life-expectancy upon attaining any specific age will differ between populations. A seventy-year-old life-long smoker from France may reasonably regard the future with less optimism than a non-smoking Okinawan of the same age (allowing, of course, for the occasional highly noteworthy exception). We sometimes describe such variations in life-expectancy between populations as differences in the rate of aging, although chronologically, we all ( barring celebrities!) age at precisely the same rate. For this reason, there has long been a search for a biological measure of aging that could be used…

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Tags: longevity, research, genetics, centenarians, age

Label without a cause

(May 25, 2016)

To talk informally about a concept, we need only give it a recognisable name. For example, we use the label "medical error" and we all know what is meant - or at least we think we do. However, there are clearly large differences between mis-diagnosing a condition, prescribing an incorrect dosage or removing the wrong internal organ, so our informal certainty is of limited practical use. We know that to analyse or measure a problem robustly over time (and ultimately to improve it), we need more than a high-level label. We need a rigorous classification, universally adhered to.

Rigorous classification is what the World Health Organisation's ICD system seeks to provide for analysts working with mortality data.…

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Tags: cause of death, ICD, medical error, research

Assumed or Presumed?

(Apr 24, 2016)

Mortality modelling and research is often critically dependent upon assumptions, but certainty over whether those assumptions are well-founded may come only with hindsight. Human beings are prone to a number of biases, and checking if an assumption is appropriate means looking beyond our preconceptions and searching for corroborative evidence.

I was reminded of the importance of evidence whilst reading some mortality research from Olshansky, Carnes and Cassel (1990). This paper attempted something inherently tricky - it tried to construct a method for estimating plausible upper limits to human life expectancy. This paper has been cited many times, including somewhat negatively in a landmark…

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Tags: longevity, research, models, expert

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