Sci. Aging Knowl. Environ., 5 March 2003
Out of the Lab, Into the Legislature
New Web site focuses on policy implications of aging-related research
Current discoveries in the field of aging might be setting the stage for tap-dancing troupes of 120-year-olds or for great-grandparents who stick around long enough to squander the family fortune. In less fanciful scenarios, scientists will coax embryonic stem cells to form neurons or manipulate genes, spurring clinical breakthroughs in the treatment of aging-related diseases. Such possibilities are already sparking controversy--everywhere from lawmaking bodies to family dinner tables. A new Web site, SAGE Crossroads, will launch on 6 March to examine how aging-related research will affect society.
The project is a joint venture between the Alliance for Aging Research (AAR), a nonprofit advocacy organization, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), publisher of SAGE KE. AAAS provides a scientific foundation for the new site, and AAR brings experience educating people on the "problems, progress, and promise of research on aging," says George Martin, SAGE KE's editor-in-chief. Part of the vision for SAGE KE, which covers basic research on the biology of aging, included a sister site such as SAGE Crossroads that would focus on the social sciences and public policy, he says. "My hope is that Crossroads will give broader recognition of the importance of aging research, and that it will attract more discussion about the implications of that research," says Martin.
Positioned where science and policy converge, SAGE Crossroads will provide a forum for people to learn and discuss how research might influence everyday life. "There are going to be discoveries with potentially profound implications for human health and longevity that will have an enormous impact on the whole society," says Daniel Perry, executive director of AAR. He points to controversies over stem cell research and confusion between therapeutic and reproductive cloning as examples of what can happen when people don't comprehend the technology. "A misunderstanding of science can produce policies that cause great damage," he adds.
The site will distinguish itself through its series of live Webcasts, featuring debates and interviews with experts. At its launch, SAGE Crossroads will post its first Webcast--on the ethics of prolonging life. On 27 March, a second debate will address the question: "Do We Want Science to Redesign Human Aging?" The News and Views section will present articles about recent policy and research developments, including pieces that provide background on the Webcast topics. Visitors to SAGE Crossroads will also have the opportunity to participate in discussions and surveys.
Now is a particularly opportune time for the project, says Martin: "Demographic trends indicate an explosive growth [in the number] of the oldest-old," and the needs of that population should be addressed. Because research is quickly moving toward developing interventions in the process of aging, nonscientists must understand the research and its potential applications, says Perry: "We're trying to get ahead of the discoveries, so that when those discoveries are made, they are made in an environment that is understanding and welcoming." It remains to be seen, however, whether any amount of preparation will spare a third-grader the embarrassment of watching her great-great-grandma wear down her tap shoes in public.
The following organizations fund SAGE Crossroads:
March 5, 2003
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Citation: K. Ramsayer, Out of the Lab, Into the Legislature. Sci. SAGE KE 2003, nw38 (5 March 2003)
Science of Aging Knowledge Environment. ISSN 1539-6150