Earlier this year, the world’s oldest person shared the secret to a long life: a glass of wine every day, with a bit of chocolate for dessert. The 118-year-old French nun certainly knows the secret to a good life – but the Saudi Arabian royal family may soon have her beat. Per an article published in MIT’s Technology Review, the Saudi royal family has started a nonprofit organization called the Hevolution Foundation. The foundation’s goal? To invest up to $1 billion per year to research “the biology of aging” and extend the global population’s lifelong “health span,” or total number of healthy years. In other words: to slow aging.
The Effort to Slow Aging
Though the exact nature of the foundation is still under wraps, Technology Review reporters explain that the foundation’s overall scope has been discussed at a number of scientific gatherings. At this time, the foundation seems focused on clinical studies of anti-aging drugs. Mehmood Khan, a former Mayo Clinic endocrinologist and the manager of the Hevolution fund, explains. “Our primary goal is to extend the period of healthy lifespan,” Khan said in an interview cited by the Technology Review. “There is not a bigger medical problem on the planet than this one.”
Can Clinical Trials Help Slow Aging?
While Hevolution may not be focused on Benjamin Button-style reverse aging, the foundation’s goal is still remarkable: to slow the body’s aging process, thus delaying the onset of certain age-related diseases. Ideally, this process would extend the number of healthy years an average adult can expect to enjoy. For example, Hevolution is rumored to be funding a test of the diabetes drug metformin, a trial that has been touted as the first major test of a drug to postpone aging in humans. The trial hinges on what is known as the “geroscience hypothesis,” which suggests that scientists can delay the onset of age-related diseases by altering the aging processes inside human cells. The geroscience hypothesis is still unproven; however, with the significant investment proposed by Hevolution, scientists may find the answers they desperately seek more quickly.
Implications of Hevolution Foundation Research
There are a number of fascinating possibilities associated with slower aging. First, humans could enjoy longer, healthier lives, offering more time to connect with loved ones and prioritize physical health. However, as indicated by the Technology Review article, slower aging could also have regional implications for the Saudi royal family. The Technology Review cites materials prepared by Hevolution that point to evidence that people living in the Gulf states “are aging faster biologically than they are chronologically,” which may have to do with the area’s “rich diets” and relatively little exercise. If the research proves promising, Hevolution’s efforts could have a major impact on the future of Saudi Arabia’s relatively young population.
The Hevolution Foundation’s work is still highly hypothetical. However, by funneling resources into neglected projects – the metformin trial, for example – the foundation could revolutionize the global understanding of aging as a science.
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