Date: October 10th, 2013
While the study of the science behind aging is not new, it has only recently become organized and recognized enough to warrant its own name—geroscience. Geroscience is a field that aims to understand the relationship between aging and age-related disease. Geroscientists and their supporters believe that this relationship is the key to finding new ways to prevent, slow, and cure the diseases that disproportionately impact us as we grow older. Scientists now generally agree that aging—and the disease and dysfunction that comes with it—is changeable and capable of being slowed.
Despite the fact that geroscience has its own page on Wikipedia, it’s still relatively unknown by outsiders. This is why the formation of an interest group within the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that focuses on geroscience, was such a major step forward for the field. The GSIG (GeroScience Interest Group) spans the disease-focused institutes at the NIH and currently has 20 of the 27 institutes as engaged and supportive members. The goal of the GSIG is to recognize that despite their diseases differences, the institutes have much in common—including the study of the underlying processes of aging that lead to disease. By pooling their knowledge they hope to leverage each other’s discoveries and find answers to how to slow and in some cases stop the declines of aging.
The GSIG was created less than two years ago by Dr. Felipe Sierra of the Division of Aging Biology at the NIH’s National Institute on Aging. Because of overwhelming enthusiasm and support, this Fall, geroscience was in the spotlight at the Advances in Geroscience: Impact on Healthspan and Chronic Disease research summit at the NIH. More than 50 leading scientists presented their research and discussed the extent to which the changes in our body that come with aging represent a common risk factor for disease. With more than 500 registered participants, the summit included seven sessions that explored how chronic inflammation is linked to cancer, heart disease, and Alzheimer’s disease; how responses to stress can accelerate aging and risk of disease; how the decline in stem cells contributes to osteoporosis and joint degeneration; and more.
Along with seeking to better understand the mechanisms of aging and their relationship to chronic disease, the participants aimed to identify new opportunities for research and collaboration. The summit was a great success and a whitepaper releasing key findings will be available soon. In the meantime, the agenda and webcasts from the meeting are available here.
Healthy Life for Longer
The Alliance for Aging Research is particularly excited about the GSIG and the research summit because we believe that through collaborations such as these, scientists will be able to discover ways to decrease the period of our lives that we live in poor health. This is not about living longer, it’s about living longer in good health. Experts call this the compression of morbidity. What this means is that the time at the end of our lives when many people experience multiple chronic diseases, disability, dependency, and suffering, will be postponed and reduced. So life at 80 could feel like 60!
Recognizing the tremendous value of this science, the Alliance spearheads The Healthspan Campaign where partners have come together to encourage collaboration and foster new ideas and efforts in the field of geroscience. A research agenda from the Healthspan Campaign consolidates many of these ideas and goals into one document and is currentlysigned by more than 100 leading scientists, doctors, and experts from the U.S. and Europe—including Nobel laureates, a member of the House of Lords, and numerous members of the Institute of Medicine.
The Alliance and our partners through the Healthspan Campaign believe that with proper funding and focus, we will see significant breakthroughs in the near-term. This will take not only the recent enthusiasm we have seen through the GSIG but much greater investments in the science than currently exist. Currently only 1% of the National Institutes of Health’s budget goes to the fundamental research on aging. However, collaboration amongst the scientists will leverage the current budget and the resulting findings. It’s amazing what putting our heads together can do.