Introduction

In most countries, people are living longer and healthier lives than ever, but are still spending a significant number of years in poor health towards the end of their lives.* Common conditions experienced by older people include cardiovascular disease, cancer, dementia, arthritis, and general frailty. Given that the number of older people is predicted to increase markedly over the next 25 years, addressing age-related health conditions is a pressing societal challenge. Healthy ageing is a priority policy area for the World Health Organization and governments around the globe.

Geroscience, also called biogerontology, is a field of research that is exploring the biological processes that underlie ageing. Researchers working in this field believe that intervening in these processes could be a more efficient way of increasing health span – the number of years we are healthy – than tackling each condition individually. This briefing note summarises the main scientific developments to date, and the potential ethical and social issues that the discovery of a treatment for ageing might raise.

*Office for National Statistics (2016) Healthy life expectancy at birth and age 65 by upper tier local authority and area deprivation: England, 2012 to 2014; GBD Causes of Death Collaborators (2017) Global, regional, and national incidence, prevalence, and years lived with disability for 328 diseases and injuries for 195 countries, 1990-2016 The Lancet 390: 1211-59.

Previous work

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