For Newcastle University Professor Thomas Zglinicki the biggest challenge that lies ahead for medical researchers is tackling age-related multimorbidity, the incidence of people living with several long-term conditions at a time.
The professor, who works in the university’s Institute for Cell and Molecular Biology and also Newcastle University’s Institute for Ageing, believes that we stand on the brink of a whole new way of thinking which will reduce the incidence of age-related chronic diseases such as arthritis, dementia and diabetes.
According to research conducted by the King’s Fund, fifteen million people in England alone have a chronic condition, which is most prevalent in older people; 58% in the over-sixties compared with 14% in the under-forties. The research says that the number of people with three or more such conditions is predicted to rise from 1.9 million in 2008 to 2.9 million by 2018.
Professor Zglinicki said: “What tends to happen is that these diseases come as a package. One follows another. You get to 85 and you have four or five conditions. “Realistically, we are not going to cure all these diseases but we can reduce their onset so that someone may get to 85 and only have two conditions, which means they are taking less drugs and the cost is reduced for the health service.
“It is a new way of thinking in treating humans. What we are seeing now is the developments of drugs that can postpone the onset of these conditions together by slowing down the ageing process. “One way of doing this is better lifestyles but for many people the idea of a drug that can slow down the onset of chronic conditions may be more acceptable.
“This approach offers great potential and is important as populations get older and older. Life expectancy is extending every year. “I am convinced that in a few years from now we will have the first drug that effectively slow down the effects of ageing and delays the onset of age-related diseases, disability and frailty. ”