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Mayo Clinic Medical Science Blog

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Wed, Jun 21 8:00am · Cellular Senescence Research Highlighted at World Science Festival

Mayo Clinic’s aging research was among the featured topics at the 10th annual World Science Festival in New York earlier this month.

James Kirkland, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging, shared details about cell senescence breakthroughs and next steps in the field during a 90-minute session called “Engineering Immortality?” The discussion also included research related to bioengineering, cell biology, medicine and ethics.

The World Science Festival is a five-day gathering that celebrates science and features programs that explore innovative ideas across fields. Sessions took place at locations throughout the city, including Times Square, parks, museums, galleries and performing art venues. Dr. Kirkland noted that one of the aims of the festival was to encourage young people to pursue the sciences and is optimistic about the future of aging researchers.

“Increasingly, younger people who are choosing careers and making the decision about where to invest their future are recognizing the excitement of understanding the fundamental aging processes and that by developing interventions that target them we may be able to have a substantial, or even transformative, impact on the health of an entire population,” says Dr. Kirkland.

Other participants in the “Engineering Immortality?” session included: Joseph Fins, M.D., a professor of medical ethics and chief of the division of medical ethics at Weill Cornell Medical College; Jamie Metzl, a senior fellow for technology and national security of the Atlantic Council, novelist, blogger, syndicated columnist, media commentator, and expert in international affairs and biotechnology policy; and Doris Taylor, Ph.D., director of regenerative medicine research and director of the center for cell and organ biotechnology at the Texas Heart Institute in Houston.

Mon, Mar 20 8:00am · Nathan LeBrasseur, Ph.D., receives Director’s Award

The Mayo Clinic Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging is pleased to announce that Nathan LeBrasseur, Ph.D., has received the 2016 Director’s Award for his work as a researcher and program director of the Healthy Aging and Independent Living (HAIL) program.

The Director’s Award is presented to investigators who show achievement in the following areas:

  • Contribution to aging research and advocacy
  • Landmark papers and achievements on aging
  • Citizenship and education

Dr. LeBrasseur oversees multidisciplinary efforts to extend health span and promote autonomy in older adults. The HAIL program is designed to translate discoveries in the biology of aging from the laboratory bench to the clinical bedside. Ongoing work includes blood- and performance-based measures of health and function, pharmacological interventions targeting mechanisms of aging, and rapidly scaled and implemented means to promote autonomy and well being in older adults.

“Dr. LeBrasseur brings a unique and valuable perspective to the Center,” says James Kirkland, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Center on Aging. “As the director of the Healthy Aging and Independent Living program, he has done an excellent job of bringing researchers together and setting up collaborations. He has published a number of important studies including breakthrough findings recently published in Nature Communications.”

In this study, Dr. LeBrasseur and others demonstrate a link between the biology of aging and idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis occurs when lung tissue becomes damaged and scarred. The thickened, stiff tissue makes it difficult for the lungs to work properly, causing shortness of breath, fatigue, declining quality of life, and, ultimately, death. Life expectancy after diagnosis is between three to five years and there are currently no effective treatment options.

Dr. LeBrasseur and his team, which included experts across specialties at Mayo Clinic, as well as Newcastle University Institute for Ageing and The Scripps Research Institute, studied the lung tissue (made available by the National Institutes of Health) of healthy individuals and of persons with mild, moderate and severe idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Researchers found that the markers of cellular senescence, a process triggered by damage to cells and linked to aging, were higher in individuals with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and further increased with disease severity. Then, they demonstrated that factors secreted by senescent cells could drive inflammation, abnormal tissue remodeling, and fibrosis, which are hallmarks of the disease. In a mouse model of the human disease, Dr. LeBrasseur’s team showed that both suicide gene- and drug-mediated removal of the senescent cells from unhealthy mice improved clinically relevant measures of lung function and physical health, such as exercise capacity on a treadmill.

While further studies are needed, researchers hope that targeting senescent cells could be a viable treatment option for individuals who suffer from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Dr. LeBrasseur was also senior author on a study showing that poor diet and lack of exercise accelerate the accumulation of harmful senescent cells and the onset of age-related conditions in mice, published in Diabetes, as well as a study where his team developed a way to accurately measure a circulating factor, called GDF11, to better understand its potential impact on the aging process, published in Cell Metabolism. The latter study represents an effort to identify “frail” patients at risk for adverse health outcomes following medical procedures, such as surgery or chemotherapy. Dr. LeBrasseur and his team believe that their work can help clinicians leverage: the right treatment for the right patient at the right time; prehabilitation strategies to optimize presurgical resilience; or more robust transitional care plans for vulnerable older adults.


Jan 19, 2016 · Mayo Clinic and Others Call Aging into the Limelight

James Kirkland, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Mayo Clinic Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging

James Kirkland, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Mayo Clinic Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging

Aging: It’s a topic that impacts each and every one of us. It’s the single greatest risk factor for most chronic diseases, which account for the majority of morbidity and health care expenditures in developed nations. In a recently released book, “Aging: The Longevity Dividend,” experts in the field explore the topic and concurrent research in-depth and call for aging to be brought into the limelight.

Linda Partridge of the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing synthesizes the opportunity at hand in a Nature review of the book. “Basic science and human demographic studies have delivered an unprecedented opportunity to tackle the comorbidities of later life,” says Partridge. “To translate these discoveries into drugs and changes in medical practice, and to reap the consequent economic benefits, will require some radical changes: breaking down disease siloes, training a new generation of physicians and scientists capable of working across disciplinary boundaries, and altering public attitudes and policy.”

This may seem like a tall order, but researchers at the Mayo Clinic Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging, including James Kirkland, M.D., Ph.D., have devoted their livelihood to this very goal. Dr. Kirkland, Director of the Center on Aging, is an editor on “Aging: The Longevity Dividend” along with S. Jay Olshansky, Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Chicago, and George M. Martin, M.D., of the University of Washington. In a chapter titled, “Translating the Science of Aging into Therapeutic Interventions,” Dr. Kirkland addresses challenges of developing new drugs to target aging.

“While the challenges may be many, we have a great appreciation for the enormity of the human, social and fiscal implications of increasing health span – the healthy, productive time in life – and improving the quality of life for older adults,” says Dr. Kirkland. “This book sets the stage for the next evolution in the field of aging.”

The Center on Aging brings together basic scientists and clinicians to focus on delaying the aging process as a whole, as opposed to tackling individual age-related diseases. Recent research from the Center supports the possibility that using specific drugs to target senescent cells – cells that contribute to frailty and disease associated with age – could eliminate or delay diseases associated with aging. To learn more about age-related research, visit Mayo Clinic’s News Network.

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