That aging is understandable and solvable, not necessarily immediately but ultimately, was one topic not seeing a lot of opposition at the American Aging Association (AGE) conference in Phoenix AZ May 29 – June 1, 2009. Key research highlights are below.
Aging is a key contemporary concern, on the order of climate change, as all countries worldwide have populations increasingly stratified towards aging. Aging is not just a medical condition but a key challenge to be resolved for advanced societies to be successful in the long-term. Productivity, healthcare costs and happiness and comfort could all be improved with advances in the remedy of aging. Aging has advanced from a nebulous concept to concrete mechanisms that can be understood and managed. Thematically, most of the bioparts impacted in aging (cells, genes, proteins, neurons, etc.) seem to still be present in older organisms, just not functioning the way they did when the organisms were younger, suggesting that it may be possible to manage and reverse aging processes, and confirming the systemic nature of aging including, for example, the role of a healthy microenvironment and cell-cell signaling. Reductionism as an approach has proved unsuccessful.
Aging is a multidisciplinary phenomenon, involving different deterioration processes in different tissues over time. Aging involves a variety of fields (immunology, cancer, regenerative medicine, cognition, micronutrients, etc.) and a variety of levels of research species (C. elegans (worms), Drosophila (flies), mice, rats and humans). At AGE, the organizational structure was a focus on systems pathways, particularly signaling and hormones, together with a look at the role of proteins in aging.
AGE was an excellent place to obtain a broad and deep comprehension of how aging works. The systemic rigor required to characterize the process-intensive nature of aging has been making significant progress, with a much more detailed understanding of the complex nested multifactor pathways now existing as compared with that of even a few years ago. It is clear that the painstaking characterization work could be further improved with automation and quantitative tools, especially for example, digital linkage of aging pathways across organisms.
As with other life sciences areas, the potential widespread quick and cheap availability of the sequencing of genomes, proteomes, etc. is likely to dramatically change how the science of aging is conducted, though not guarantee quick solutions. As pathways continue to be confirmed, they can be digitized into software and nearly indefinite simulated iterations could be run before conducting time-consuming and expensive bench experiments in confirmation.
Many interventions work for extending the lifespans and healthspans of lower order organisms, for example knocking out any one of 200 known genes may extend the lifespan of the C. elegans worm but the specifics and replicability of the mechanisms in higher order organisms are not known. It does not make sense to directly translate point solutions up to mammals given the systemic nature of the organisms and aging processes. Even moving one biomarker for alcohol consumption from monkeys to humans is not direct.
Exciting new research findings
Reference links below and conference abstracts here
Aging is a key contemporary issue. Research is advancing both incrementally and radically in every area of aging. The highest immediate impact could come from working on aging problems upstream at important fulcrum points that impact everything below them, such as genetics, epigenetics and the immune function. The research is progressing and it is starting to be time for VCs, big pharma and DIYbio’ers to take advantage of the many interesting and actionable possibilities.