Call to action

Experts call on the World Health Organization, governments and medical communities to develop common classifications and systems to diagnosis and treat age-related diseases

An international team of researchers including Max Planck Director Adam Antebi have put forward a position statement, published in Science, which lays out a new healthcare framework to help ageing populations stay healthier for longer.

The statement is a ‘call to action’ to governments, the WHO and the scientific and medical community to come together and develop the classifications and staging systems utilizing the framework as the basis for diagnosing and treating age-related diseases, including directly treating all ageing tissue and organs.

Age-related diseases without adequate diagnostic criteria and severity staging limits the ability for prevention or treatment and limits the ability to develop new drugs and interventions. Ultimately, this impacts the quality of life for the older members of society.

Unmet needs of ageing populations

Aging populations involve urgent and unmet healthcare and economic needs related to chronic disease and multi-morbidity, which require solutions at the national and international level. People worldwide are living longer.

Today, for the first time in history, most people can expect to live into their sixties and beyond. By 2020, the number of people aged 60 years and older will outnumber children younger than 5 years. By 2050, the world’s population aged 60 years and older is expected to total 2 billion, up from 900 million in 2015 (https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/ageing-and-health).

Common conditions in older age include back and neck pain and osteoarthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes, sarcopenia and dementia. Additionally, as people age, they are more likely to experience several conditions at the same time, including advanced conditions that may have been building up over decades, which then lead to other diseases and health risks. Dedicated research, new disease terminology, metrics and analytical methods are needed for a wide range of ageing issues in order to effectively diagnose and treat them.

Designing the framework

Currently the classification and severity staging of age-related diseases is limited because it is inconsistent, incomplete and non-systematic. Some types of disease that can be found in many organs, such as intrinsic organ aging , or organ atrophy or wasting, are classified in one organ but not another.

To help tackle this problem an international group of experts, scientists and medics, led by University of Liverpool Honorary Fellow Dr. Stuart Calimport and supported by University of Liverpool Reader Dr. Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, created a position statement which lays out a framework for properly and comprehensively classifying and staging the severity of aging-related diseases. Importantly the statement includes aging at the tissue and organ level as well as organ atrophy, pathologic remodelling and calcification, and aging-related systemic and metabolic diseases.

Dr Stuart Calimport, said: “This framework will increase our ability to develop drugs and interventions that target the processes of ageing and that can accumulate with age, which would have unprecedented benefits in relation to the treatment and prevention of serious diseases.”

Dr. Adam Antebi, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing said: “This approach will not only create a framework for classifying ageing related pathology, but provide the basis for assimilating new discoveries and interventions as we increase our understanding of the ageing process itself.”

Dr Joao Pedro de Magalhaes, said: “Ageing is the greatest biomedical challenge of the 21st century.  As such, this framework will increase our ability to develop longevity drugs and interventions that target diseases related to the ageing process.”

While aging is classified as a condition within the WHO International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) in relation to intrinsic skin ageing and photoageing, the framework proposes the classification of aging as conditions in all organs, along with the comprehensive classification of all ageing-related diseases and syndromes.

Buck Institute professor Judith Campisi, PhD, was a co-author of the position statement. “Bringing WHO and other governments into the effort to identify and classify aging as a condition is the only way we are going to be able to address the unmet needs of aging populations around the world,” she said. “This effort provides a framework that would guide policy and practice and enable appropriate interventions and the allocation of resources. This is particularly important in countries that have fewer resources to devote to caring for an aging population.”

As part of this work, initial classification submissions related to age-related diseases in line with the framework have already been submitted to the latest version of WHO ICD-11.

Researchers from the following establishments were also involved in the position statement; Harvard University, Stanford University, Cambridge University, Imperial College London, Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing,  and University College London.

Original publication:

Stuart R. G. Calimport, Barry L. Bentley, Claire Stewart, Graham Pawelec, Angelo Scuteri, Manlio Vinciguerra, Cathy Slack, Danica Chen, Lorna W. Harries, Gary Marchant, G. Alexander Fleming, Michael Conboy, Adam Antebi, Garry W. Small, Jesus Gil, Edward G. Lakatta, Arlan Richardson, Clifford Rosen, Karoly Nikolich, Tony Wyss-Coray, Lawrence Steinman, Thomas Montine, João Pedro de Magalhães, Judith Campisi, George Church
To help aging populations, classify organismal senescence
Science, 1. November 2019



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