If this guy succeeds, every nursing home might be put out of business

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John O'Connor
John O'Connor

Any way you slice it, a lot of money goes into caring for our nation's most senior citizens.

According to federal beancounters, costs related to nursing home care run north of $150 billion each year. It's not hard to see why: As we get older, we tend to fall apart.

But what if people could remain sound of body and mind into ages of, well, biblical proportions? That elusive goal has captured the imagination of windmill chasers and serious thinkers for time immemorial. Herodotus wrote about a mythical fountain of youth in the 5th Century BC. According to some accounts, Ponce de León was searching for the same when he traveled to Florida in 1513.

The latest seeker of note is not your typical crackpot. Unless a hedge fund manager with a medical degree from Harvard might be considered a crackpot.

Radiologist Joon Yun recently announced a $1 million science competition that seeks to halt the aging process in its tracks. So far, 11 teams have committed to chasing his Palo Alto Longevity Prize. To capture the gold, the winner will have to demonstratably improve “homeostatic capacity.” That's a fancy term that means an organism's ability to return to normal after a stressful encounter.

“Ultimately, I think we'll crack the age code and we'll hack aging,” Yun announced. “And if we do, not only will healthcare be transformed, but humanity. At that point, we'll have unlocked human capacity.”

Yun said the notion of an anti-aging contest sprung from his own life. The 46-year-old said he's noticed the many small ways in which his own homeostatic capacity has diminished over time — for instance, when recovering from a poor night's sleep.

That same inability to fully bounce back helps explain the progression of serious illnesses such as diabetes and hypertension.

His aging-prevention contest has two components. The first team that successfully increases a small mammal's heart rate variability to levels typical of a young adult will get half a million dollars. Judges will award another $500,000 to the first contestants that extend the life of a test mammal by 50% beyond its life expectancy by restoring homeostatic capacity.

It remains to be seen if or when any of the entrants will be able to “hack the aging code.” Let's just hope it doesn't take too long. After all, none of us is getting any younger. 

John O'Connor is McKnight's Editorial Director.


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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.