The panel comprised of Dr Brian Kennedy (Director of National University Health System (NUHS) Centre for Healthy Ageing), Frank Jaksch (ChromaDex Co-Founder and Executive Chairman), Professor Peter Howe (University of Newcastle and University of Southern Queensland) and Dr Nady Braidy (Lecturer, Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing, University of New South Wales).
Convening at our recent Healthy Ageing APAC Summit 2019 in Singapore, these experts discussed healthy ageing from a scientific point of view, in addition to highlighting upcoming innovations in this area within the research space.
The session was chaired by FoodNavigator-Asia and NutraIngredients-Asia Editor-in-Chief Gary Scattergood.
Set against the context that there will be 1.3bn over-60s in APAC by 2050, double the number of today, here are the key takeaways from the session:
Biomarkers to navigate interventions
According to Dr Kennedy, although the targeting of biomarkers of ageing is an area with a great deal of potential, it has yet to become a popular area of study.
“[The study of biomarkers] is currently less popularized, but with the use of deep data sets and artificial intelligence, we could actually measure age prediction and then even match clinical interventions up with the relevant biomarkers,” he said.
“An even more economic approach would be to figure out what works based on the biomarkers, and go backwards from there [to develop solutions].”
Dr Braidy concurred, adding that various studies performed on mice had shown some significant results in this area, particularly with regard to the molecule nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD+).
“NAD+ levels could be one of these biomarkers, as its intracellular levels decline with age in certain organs and the mechanisms of its entry into cells and cell pathways would also be affected,” he added.
Professor Howe added that there are ‘a wealth of potential bioactives out there, many with the potential to optimize the health state’.
“There is a lot of research already going on in Asia to identify new bioactives, but the gap that currently exists is that of the translation of these to actual interventions, as well as providing these researchers with proper protection especially in the form of IP,” he said.
“We need to translate these into [disease] prevention strategies, and [governments should] shift focus to assisting the industry to create products that can bring substantial outcomes.”
Jaksch also pointed out that there are currently no transporter (proteins) currently optimised based on phosphorylated compounds or drugs based on this, signifying this as another potential area of research focus.
Health care over sick care
The panel also agreed that research into the prevention of disease (health care) should take precedence over treatment (sick care) moving forward.
“We need to decrease sick care and increase health care – a lot of money is being spent on keeping people alive for longer and sick for the same period of time, but this should be focused on keeping people healthy for longer instead,” said Dr Kennedy.
“Diseases are caused by a breakdown of homeostasis and equilibrium in the body, and once this disequilibrium is hit, it is very hard [to overcome], hence the importance of prevention.”
Dr Howe agreed that the ‘real issue’ in the industry should be prioritising prevention instead of treatment, but lamented the lack of understanding of this concept.
“Governments everywhere are finding this very hard to grasp, for example in Australia where a lot of money is being poured into healthcare,” he said.
Confusion and challenges
Professor Howe added that impatience was one of the major challenges faced by the research industry.
“There are many out there looking for ways to quickly translate studies to products – it is necessary to remember that there are no shortcuts,” he said.
“The only thing that rushing into this will do is harm the industry as a whole, so proper investment [and evaluation] are needed before moving forward.”
The wealth of studies available on certain topics, for example sugar consumption, also have the potential to result in confusion for the public.
“Studies are important, but it is also critical to define what the information required is when referring to these, because there are many contradicting ones out there which could be confusing for the public,” said Dr Kennedy.
“[This in turn] makes it difficult for the scientific community [to communicate findings to them]. There is really a need for researchers to step in to check and clarify studies and findings [to avoid this happening].”
Another area of concern highlighted was that of human longevity, with some publications reporting that some humans alive today could potentially live to 1,000 years of age, a claim that Jaksch dismissed.
“There has been no change in the upper limit of mortality or the percentage in these for the past few decades – moreover, science should not be focused on longevity now, [there are more concerns] like therapy and healthcare,” he said.