Queen’s professor wants to bring approach to biology into the 21st century

Dr. Colin Farrelly says health research should focus on humans’ health span

Dr. Farrelly is interested in how we age healthily.
Supplied by Colin Farrelly

At the intersection of biology, philosophy, and politics is Dr. Colin Farrelly’s research.

Dr. Farrelly is a professor in the Queen’s Political Studies department. He studies epistemology and virtue jurisprudence, particularly in the context of the natural sciences. The Journal sat down with Farrely to discuss his research on extending people’s quality of life.

“Most people don't realize that aging is the biggest risk factor for [disease],” Farrelly said.

“It's not about extending [life] longer, but it's to have more health and less disease. Unfortunately, we’ve wedded ourselves to disease research. My mother was on chemotherapy for 14 years. Basically, the goal was that she didn't die of that particular ailment until something else got her. It didn't actually increase her health.”

Considering the United Nations’ theme celebrating older women for this year’s International Day of Older Persons on Oct.1, Farrelly researched how aging research would benefit the health and well-being of women—particularly in developing nations.

Aging populations have implications for the economy, fertility abilities, and social structure as women are often the primary caregivers for the elderly.

“Most older persons are actually female,” Farrelly said.

“There’s a lot of economic vulnerability as you survive into advanced ages. For underdeveloped countries, for example, they don't have the healthcare pension system that we have. Keeping people healthy and late life shrinking the period of fragility and disability is pro aging research.”

Undergoing clinical trials, the drug TAME is the first pharmaceutical attempt to target natural pathologies that occur as a person ages, instead of a specific disease state. 

“The drug is metformin,” Farrelly said. “It’s a good kind of first attempt. They think that particular genes are activating mimics—something like caloric restriction, which has been shown to be a way to change aging in mice since the 1930s.”

Farrelly has learned from the past that new scientific frontiers come with ethical problems. Historical attempts to improve the biology of humans have led to injustices.

“You want to make sure that however you’re harnessing the potential of the science, it is doing more good than harm in the world.”

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.