Extending the Healthy Years of Our Lifespan Through Breakthrough Science

Humankind has searched for the fountain of youth since the beginning of recorded history, and in some ways we have succeeded. Scientific advancements have increased life expectancy by battling back diseases that once killed millions before the age of 60. But now that living into the 80s is commonplace, we have a new problem–we are extending the period of time people are sick at the end of their lives.

We need to extend not just lifespan, but healthspan. A pioneering band of scientists now believe they have the knowledge to target and slow the mechanisms of aging. Armed with these breakthroughs, they are working to change how we treat the diseases of aging, and how we think of longevity and aging.

Tonight on Breakthrough: The Age of Aging, director and Hollywood visionary Ron Howard introduces viewers to the researchers who are delving into the science of aging.

“If life could be extended with quality, it means enhanced productivity. Think about extending the productivity of an individual who has already lived those decades, has that wisdom–that accrued knowledge–but also has the energy and the vitality to act on it, to share it, to teach it–to do something about it.” –Ron Howard

In this clip, Ron Howard talks about the human aspect of the aging process.

Ron Howard on Aging

This episode of Breakthrough highlights scientists who believe that while extending lifespan and healthspan is possible, it requires a change in the hearts and minds of  both the medical community and the politicians and policy makers.

Improvements in basic public health, antibiotics, immunizations, as well as treatments for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes have dramatically increased the odds that we will live long lives. However, research suggests that longevity may be more related to genetics than lifestyle.

NEW YORK, N.Y. - Nir Barzilai talking about centenarians being a clue about how to live healthier as we live longer. 

(Photograph by Asylum Entertainment)
NEW YORK, N.Y. – Nir Barzilai talking about centenarians being a clue about how to live healthier as we live longer. 

(Photograph by Asylum Entertainment)

Nir Barzilai, the Director of the Institute for Aging Research at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, has been following healthy centenarians: people who live to 100 years and beyond. Barzilai believes that financial constraints of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) are preventing scientists from expanding research in this field.

Using centenarians as a model for the aging process, Barzilai studies their activity habits, diet and overall lifestyle to better understand how these individuals are able to life such long and healthy lives.

In spite of some unhealthy habits, it seems as though these individuals have some type of protection that makes them age better than the average human.

Barzilai suggests that a fraction of humans are born with protective genes that slow their aging process. New technology used in current genomic research indicate that individual cells may have mutations associated to longevity.

Preview Clip | The Key to Living a Longer Life: The goal of researchers at the Buck Institute is to slow the aging process and thus slow down the onset of the many diseases that affect us as we get older.

If these breakthrough scientists can convince the FDA to support studies that target aging in humans, they are convinced they can change science and medicine as we know it and improve the lives of our aging population.

Explore more about The Age of Aging on the Breakthrough second-screen companion and don’t miss the premiere of Breakthrough: The Age of Aging tonight, Sunday, November 29 at 9/8c.