Genetic Health Aging Research

Those who live to be over 100 years old fascinate many of us. A century! What is it about these people that allow them to live to such old ages? Is it in their DNA? These are such prominent question that The National Institute of Health has dedicated an entire division, the National Institute on Aging (NIA), to study aging.

One such research vehicle is NIA’s ongoing study, the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging (BLSA), which began in 1958. More than 1,000 men and women, from their 20s to their 90s, arrive every two years to take a variety of tests tracking and analyzing their aging process. Besides this specific study, the amount of research on aging is staggering, and findings are beginning to surface.

The Vast Land of Research of Human Genetics and Aging

Aging research includes the study of genetic engineering, such as cloning, stem cell technology, anti-aging, genetic testing, and much more. Here are just a few examples of the research currently being conducted.

  • American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR): This group provides nearly 2,500 grants to scientists to help fund the study of aging and age-related diseases.
  • ARC/NHMRC Research Network in Aging Well: This organization, based in Australia, supports research on the National Strategy for an Aging Australia.
  • Canadian Institutes of Health Research: This group supports 5,000 researchers in universities, teaching hospitals, and institutes across Canada to research aging.
  • National Institute on Aging Extramural Programs: This group studies the biological, social, behavioral effects, as well as those of the nervous system on aging and disease in the elderly.
  • National Institute on Aging Intramural Programs:This institution runs over 15 clinical studies on everything from genetics to the effect of fast food.

Universities world-wide also conduct research on aging, and many receive grants for their research. The amount of information is overwhelming for many. So, let’s narrow the playing field and focus on research of genetics and aging.

The Role of Genetics on Aging

Genetics is the scientific study of living organisms and heredity. Human genetics makes the study of heredity specific to human beings. Scientists study how the traits you inherited affect you as you age. They study genes, the basic unit of heredity.

Scientists’ research has led to genetic testing that can help explain how effect genetics affects aging. By looking at a person’s genes, it enables the diagnosis and treatment of genetic conditions. There are various types of genetic testing, including:

  • Carrier testing lets you know if you are “carrying” a genetic element that you could pass on to your children.
  • Diagnostic testing identifies genetic conditions or diseases that may affect you now or in the future.
  • Pharmacogenomic testingprovides information about how specific medicines are processed by your body so medical providers can select medications that work best with your genetic makeup.
  • Predictive/Pre-symptomatic testiing tests for genetic variations that may increase your likelihood of developing certain diseases.
  • Research genetic testingcan be useful in aging research as it assists scientists in understanding how genes contribute to health and disease.

The Promise of Aging and Genetics Research

Researchers have utilized many methods to study aging. One approach used in the past focused on defining biological aging in mammals, primarily mice and men. In more recent years, genetics has been more closely examined as it relates to longevity.

Researchers recently discovered the first genetic marker for the onset of adult diabetes. This could lead to the development of genetic tests, development of drugs to treat the disease, and eventually even a cure. This discovery has huge potential, as diabetes often leads to other diseases such as strokes, blindness and kidney damage.

Scientists have also detected a molecular marker of aging in humans. Earlier, scientists had found a dramatic increase of a specific protein in cells and tissues as they aged. They now have found that same marker is in human blood. The marker is strongly associated with both chronological age and certain behaviors, such as tobacco use and physical inactivity, which are known to accelerate the aging process.

Perhaps one of the most promising techniques to come from research is stem cell treatment. Recent studies have shown the ability to take stem cells and copy them and their DNA to restore the process of rejuvenation that is lost as we age. There are those that believe that this revolutionary technology it will be possible to restore faulty genetic mechanisms.

Control Your Own Aging

From the beginning of time, mankind has sought the “fountain of youth.” While you cannot stop aging, there are things you can do to slow it down or even reverse some of the problems of aging. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is vital to slowing down the aging process. Some suggestions of how to do so are the following:

  • exercise daily
  • maintain a healthy, balanced diet rich in antioxidants
  • maintain good humor and attitude
  • maintain low cholesterol
  • maintain low stress levels
  • stay close to friends and family.

Resources

Deocaris, Custer C, et al. (2004). Trendy RNA tools for aging research, Journal of Gerontology: Biological Sciences, 59a (8), 771-783.

Jawinski, S. Michael. (March 13, 2000).Aging and longevity genes.Acta Biochimica Polonica 2000; 47(2): 269-279. Retrieved from PubMed database.

National Institutes of Health. (October 2008). Genetic testing: How it is used for healthcare. Retrieved July 1, 2009, from the National Institutes of Health Web site: http://www.nih.gov/about/researchresultsforthepublic/genetictesting.pdf.

Science Daily. (June 16, 2009). Test detects molecular marker of aging in humans. Retrieved July 1, 2009, from the Science Daily Web site: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090616103207.htm.

Whittington, Frank J., PhD. (2009). Aging and genetics: the future is here, The Genotoligist, 49(2), 283-291.