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Pointing the way forward in geroscience

Special journal issue identifies priorities, challenges in basic aging research

Barbara Cire | (301) 496-1752 | nianews3@mail.nih.gov

Do people get disease from aging or are certain aspects of aging caused by disease?

This is one of the central questions of geroscience, an emerging field in aging research. The question is explored and elaborated on in a special issue of the Journals of Gerontology: Series A – Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences. Six papers by researchers working at or funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the National Institutes of Health, present the opportunities and challenges of moving this multidisciplinary approach forward.

“These papers are a testament to the concentrated and collaborative work of several distinguished scientists,” said NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, M.D. “We have long been challenged by the interaction of aging and chronic disease. This series of papers points to important ways we can integrate our thinking and approach toward aging and disease.”

Geroscience seeks to understand the molecular and cellular mechanisms responsible for aging being a major risk factor and driver of common chronic conditions and diseases of older people. While aging itself is not a disease, the aging process represents a major risk factor for a number of chronic diseases and conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, many cancers, arthritis, and frailty, among many others. The goal of geroscience is to increase the years of healthy life – the healthspan – rather than simply lifespan.

“We hope that research in this area will ultimately translate the findings about aging biology into clinical interventions,” said Felipe Sierra, Ph.D., director of NIA’s Division of Aging Biology. “For example, we know some of the risk factors specific to cardiovascular disease and we have interventions to modify and reduce those risk factors. But a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease is aging, and we hope to identify specific risk factors that derive from the process of aging, so we can develop interventions against them.”

The NIA-funded Geroscience Network is a national interdisciplinary network of aging centers whose goal is to understand and exploit links between aging and genesis of chronic disease. The papers in the special issue describe the work of the Geroscience Network, produced through a series of meetings and workshops over two years:

  • “Moving Geroscience into Uncharted Waters” – Provides a comprehensive introduction to geroscience and describes the series of papers.
  • “Barriers to the Pre-Clinical Development of Therapeutics that Target Aging Mechanisms” – Analyzes the barriers to translation and pre-clinical development of interventions.
  • “Evaluating Healthspan in Pre-Clinical Models of Aging and Disease: Guidelines, Challenges and Opportunities for Geroscience” – Focuses on healthspan evaluation in pre-clinical models, with an emphasis on non- or minimally invasive measurements that can be conducted in the mouse, biomedicine’s animal model of choice.
  • “Frameworks for Proof-of-Concept Clinical Trials of Interventions that Target Fundamental Aging Processes” – Describes the issues and elements to be considered when developing potential clinical trials for aging in humans, including all the elements of a well-designed Phase II clinical trial, and how such a design can be modeled when the goal is to obtain an FDA certification against aging.
  • “Strategies and Challenges in Clinical Trials Targeting Human Aging” – Outlines the strategies needed for translation into the clinic, focusing on how to design studies to delay aging with drugs already approved for human use.
  • “Resilience in Aging Mice” – Report on a workshop not supported by the Geroscience Network. It is included in the series because of its direct relevance to the topic. It concentrates on identifying practical methods for measuring resilience in mouse models, as a way to accelerate testing of potential interventions before a full-length longevity analysis was attempted.

About the National Institute on Aging: The NIA leads the federal government effort conducting and supporting research on aging and the health and well-being of older people. The Institute’s broad scientific program seeks to understand the nature of aging and to extend the healthy, active years of life. For more information on research, aging, and health, go to www.nia.nih.gov.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

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