The range of expertise at the Mayo/Kogod Aging Conference has been diverse. We've heard about cell senesence today. The term senescene is often used as a synonym for aging...a lack of activity or growth. In cell biology it means the loss of the ability to proliferate. It's one result of cell damage, but not the only one. Cells can, in many cases repair themselves, or on the other hand, can undergo apoptosis or cell death. Senescence is also a result of the body protecting itself against potential cancer. If a cell can't proliferate, a tumor can't develop. Some senescent cells also excrete proteins as part of the damage recovery process, which in turn cause inflammation. Inflammation is known to drive age-related diseases. Senescent cells accumulate as we age. Can we eliminate or interfere with them and thus delay aging? Researchers are working on it.
Others are working with mice and how they can increase muscle mass. Why? Because they're good models to a point and researchers want to find ways to improve muscle health in aging humans. If people are stronger - either through a exercise, additives, supplements or other factors - they are less likely to slip, fall, injure themselves, especially at a time when injuries can be far more complicated and lead to health declines. Some also call this frailty. Researchers are looking at aspects of frailty at the molecular level. It's odd to think that alterations in something at the molecular level can lead to a person's body-wide physiological decline, but investigators realize that the beginnings of what we call aging begin at the micro level.
One rather refreshing thing about this conference - perhaps because the researchers are sharing with colleagues in a non-public venue - is how frequently we're hearing "We don't know yet" and "We're not sure about that" and "We have no idea." Geriatrics is not a new field, but clearly it's not been subject to the focus or funding of the major disease areas. There is plenty of uncharted ground, exciting questions to be pursued. Our safe prediction is that as the Boomers become even older, the interest level and demand for answers will only grow.