Scientists suggest more research into link between aging, chronic disease
To learn how common mechanisms in aging underlie the development of chronic diseases like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes, scientists have developed a new approach toward biomedical research, called geroscience. This innovative field of research seeks to bridge the divide between studies of aging and studies of chronic disease, with the hope of understanding their complex relationship and pointing the way to novel interventions for disease, frailty, and disability. Geroscience is now the focus of recommendations for new research, directed by a major, national summit at the National Institutes of Health.
The recommendations for research are based in large part on discussions at the groundbreaking 2013 NIH summit, Advances in Geroscience: Impact on Healthspan and Chronic Disease. The conference established a baseline for what we know about geroscience and outlined a roadmap for discovery about the connection between aging and disease. It was cosponsored with the NIH by the Alliance for Aging Research and the Gerontological Society of America, with additional private sector support through the Foundation for the National Institutes of Health. An overview of the Summit sessions has just been published online on May 15, 2014 in a supplemental issue of The Journals of Gerontology, Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences.
At the summit, renowned experts in aging biology and disease concluded that this new field of study could be developed through specific actions by NIH and the broader research community. Among the scientific recommendations from the summit:
- Identify how our current knowledge of the biology of aging can be applied to study the impact of aging on age-related diseases/conditions
- Identify which aspects of aging are most responsive to prevention and treatment interventions
- Develop ways to assess health span (years of good health and function) so that therapies designed to prevent disease can be assessed for efficacy
- Construct animal models that develop chronic diseases at an equivalent age to humans (this may dramatically improve translation of interventions from animals to human)
- Foster studies to understand the connection between the biology of aging and frailty, which is both a major risk factor for chronic disease and a consequence of chronic disease
Most of the recommendations are deeply rooted in the spirit of collaboration and apply what is known about aging and chronic disease to help elucidate the unknown.
The recommendations propose research directions in seven specific areas discussed at the summit, distinct mechanisms known or suspected to be related to aging that might also enable disease. Suggested areas of investigation focus on inflammation, adaptation to stress, epigenetics, metabolism, macromolecular (i.e., protein, DNA, and lipid/fat) damage, proteostasis (proper protein activity), and stem cells to better understand how they relate to serious health issues such as heart disease, diabetes and metabolic diseases, cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and frailty. Such studies might ultimately answer whether or not it is possible to prevent disease or reverse damage with therapies directed at the underlying contributions of aging.
The summit was led by the recently-formed Trans-NIH GeroScience Interest Group (GSIG). GSIG founding and executive committee members Dr. Felipe Sierra, director of the Division of Aging Biology at the National Institute on Aging at NIH and Dr. Kevin Howcroft, program director in the Cancer Immunology and Hematology Branch of the National Cancer Institute at NIH led development of the summit program. Ultimately, they said, the group is interested in developing new funding opportunities to support the interdisciplinary studies inherent in geroscience proposed by the scientific leaders at the summit.