News & Media

Rochester Woman Online: What Is Aging and How Do We Track It?

Written by Lisa E. Ireland,

President & CEO of the LSF.

The field of longevity was once new to me. Before my current role, I had a vague grasp of concepts surrounding longevity and aging research. That all changed when my journey with the Longevity Science Foundation began. The organization's mission struck a chord with me: having a close relative battling a neurodegenerative disease and seeing the toll it took on their life was one of the key motivators behind my decision to lead a global longevity nonprofit.

As we work towards funding innovative research worldwide, I am presented with another important task: spreading the word about our mission and the fundamental concepts that underpin our pursuit of extended and healthier lives.

In this article, we will explore some of the key concepts behind longevity and aging research, introduce you to the drivers of aging, and some of the tools required to track and monitor the pace at which we age.

Longevity as a function of lifespan and healthspan.

As we've uncovered in the previous article, the key to understanding longevity lies in understanding lifespan and healthspan. Longevity professionals strive to increase overall lifespan, push the boundaries of human longevity, and maximize the time spent in good health (healthspan) without age-related diseases or disabilities.

Without interventions, our quality of life deteriorates as we age. While current medicine can extend life by a handful of years, it often fails to restore the quality of life during the extended time. Therefore, the aspiration is not only to increase the length of life but also to delay and minimize the healthspan decline phase, aiming for a narrower fraction of time spent with a reduced quality of life. Let's delve into how we can achieve these goals.
Biological vs. chronological aging.

As we age, our bodies experience a plethora of changes that are reflected by our well-being. These changes, known as the biological aging process, reflect the age of our tissues, organs, and cells. While we cannot halt the passage of time (our chronological aging), significant progress has been made in understanding and decelerating biological aging. With the right lifestyle choices and a good genetic predisposition, a healthy and active person in their 50s may have a biological age comparable to someone in their 40s. In contrast, an individual with a sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle may, in fact, be biologically older than what their chronological age indicates. Biological age surpasses chronological aging in its capacity for predicting healthspan decline, disease onset, and mortality.

Biological age tracking and its perspectives.

Measuring and tracking biological age become important when assessing the impact of lifestyle changes. Through various aging tests, we establish baselines to determine the effectiveness of interventions, providing valuable data to tackle health issues that hinder the optimization of our biological age.

The expansion of longevity medicine combined with the rise of digital healthcare and telehealth will enable wider access to professional advice necessary for interpreting the data we receive. Health service providers equipped with digital healthcare tools can offer vital feedback and analyze actionable data, empowering individuals to effectively manage their health and offset the biological decline. This transformative approach allows proactive steps to slow the aging process and potentially achieve rejuvenation. But what exactly will we be tracking?
The twelve hallmarks of aging.

Biological aging is a complex, multi-layered process with no singular culprit. In 2013, researchers identified a set of nine hallmarks associated with aging. Over time, three additional biological processes were incorporated, resulting in a total of twelve factors underlying aging and decline in humans and animals. These factors include DNA instability (1), telomere attrition (2), epigenetic alterations (3), loss of proteostasis (4), deregulated nutrient-sensing (5), mitochondrial dysfunction (6), cellular senescence (7), stem cell exhaustion (8), altered intercellular communication (9), disabled macroautophagy (10), chronic inflammation (11), and dysbiosis (12). These twelve aging drivers are interconnected through various mechanisms, and understanding their interdependence remains an ongoing pursuit for longevity physicians and researchers. The twelve hallmarks serve as a framework to further investigate and address biological aging.
Aging Clocks.

Aging clocks are biochemical tools that help us identify our biological age using the aforementioned panel of biomarkers. The first one was introduced in 2011. Not unlike many scientific breakthroughs, this discovery was accidental. A University of California biostatistician Steve Horvath was looking into epigenetic biomarkers to seek out biological grounds for differences in sexual orientation. Instead, he found a strong correlation between the ages of the study participants and their epigenetic markers. Quoting Steve himself, "I fell off my chair because the signal was huge for aging." He subsequently went on to develop the eponymous Horvath Clock, the first epigenome-based aging clock. Since then, several other models have been developed, including the ones based on changes in the epigenome, telomere length, transcription factors, gut biome, and more. All these tools vary in characteristics, and as science advances, we hope to see more scalable non-invasive solutions with high predictive capacity.

Accessible and accurate aging clocks hold great promise for tracking, offsetting, and potentially reversing biological aging. Recognizing their importance, the Longevity Science Foundation centered its grant call around aging clocks. We invite you to support our work and efforts in helping early-stage longevity researchers that are trying to investigate novel aging tests. Join us in the revolutionary quest to slow down and reverse biological aging, securing a promising and healthy future for generations to come.

Access the full RWO July 2023 edition here.
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