Bringing social and biological aging hallmarks together

New research paper calls for a more holistic approach to understanding aging in order to develop future therapies and interventions to extend Longevity and healthspan. 

While it’s well-known that both social and biological factors have a part of play in the aging process, new research calls for more work to be done to capture these elements together for better understanding, and to create effective anti-aging interventions.

Longevity.Technology: Social factors have a significant impact on health outcomes – this much is well documented [1]. More recently, research and discussion in the scientific community has turned to talk of the biological hallmarks of aging, and forming a coherent approach that includes both.

Now, research from Eileen Crimmins, the AARP Chair in Gerontology at the USC Davis School of Gerontology of the University of Southern California, is calling for these two bodies of research – into the social hallmarks of aging and the biological hallmarks of aging – to come together more coherently in order to develop better Longevity outcomes. [2

Professor Crimmins’ paper focuses on the social hallmarks of aging, including low lifetime socioeconomic status, adversity in childhood and adulthood, being a member of a minority group, adverse health behaviours and adverse psychological states. 

It examines these elements in conjunction with biological factors associated with aging. Her latest work builds-on the nine cellular hallmarks of aging: telomere attrition, genomic instability, mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular senescence, stem cell exhaustion, loss of proteostasis, deregulated nutrient sensing, epigenetic alterations and altered intercellular communication. 

Her paper, which examined data collected from a large nationally-representative study of Americans over the age of 56, presents empirical work incorporating the social hallmarks of aging with indicators of multiple biological hallmarks of aging as well as downstream biology in explaining a range of health outcomes. 

“These results can be interpreted to mean that a significant amount of the social variance in age-related health outcomes is not explained by these measures of biology,”

The study results demonstrated the relative strength of the associations of social and biological measures with important health outcomes. Social factors were found to be strongly related to physical and cognitive functioning and multimorbidity in the older population group which formed part of the research, and this remained true when the significant number of biological measures were controlled.

In her paper, Professor Crimmins says: “These results can be interpreted to mean that a significant amount of the social variance in age-related health outcomes is not explained by these measures of biology,” adding that indicators of the geroscience hallmarks of aging only relate modestly to the variability in human health outcomes.

She concludes that attention to the social hallmarks related to human aging can usefully be incorporated into work on the biological hallmarks of aging to make greater progress in understanding human aging. However, she points out that “future research is needed to clarify the relative importance of these various mechanisms in human aging as integration of all these measures in the study of aging of a human cohort has not been possible to date”. 

Scientific advances will only be made when biological approaches incorporate some of the concepts of the social hallmarks of aging, says Professor Crimmins, adding that this could serve as a first step to develop measures that better explain human aging. 

Her paper suggests that research would then need to be done to “eventually involve human cohorts with measurement of complete life circumstances and complete biology in order to demonstrate the relative importance of hypothesized mechanisms and understand how to intervene in the aging process”.

Professor Crimmins adds that social scientists also have a long way to go to fully incorporate indicators of all mechanisms related to the social hallmarks of aging but that by fully incorporating more indicators as well as clarifying individuals who may be resilient to social hallmarks, work can be done to eventually provide “better interventions to improve health outcomes”.

Her paper, Social hallmarks of aging: Suggestions for geroscience research, adds to a growing body of research which is calling for a well-rounded approach which examines aging itself as a condition rather than looking at each individual disease or condition. It is hoped that taking a more holistic approach to examining the pathways of aging will eventually lead to effective future therapies and interventions to treat the aging process. 


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