“Different flavours of aging” will change the way people interact and drive personalised medicine.
Continuing our interview with Dr Leanne Jones, Director of the Bakar Aging Research Institute, which launched recently and is part of UC San Francisco, BARI is a scientific community that aims to translate breakthroughs in aging research across multiple fields.
Longevity.Technology: Yesterday, Dr Jones discussed her goals for BARI, the benefits of the Bay Area community and tackling ageism. Today she reveals some specific areas of geroscience she’d like to see developed and covers some of the wider issues concerned with aging research – the rise of a personalised approach and what an aging population means in practical terms.
Obviously, it’s early days for the Institute, but Dr Jones is getting a feel for the aging areas it might want to emphasise and she is considering existing strengths alongside areas that the new Institute can bolster. “New initiatives surrounding immunology, for example, could open the way for us to have joint faculty that would be interested in inflammaging and inflammation driving the aging process,” she says.
Metabolism is another area UCSF is keen to develop, and of course, integrating the science of aging with personalised medicine.
“I really like the idea of having someone working towards not just building a better aging clock, but integrating those clocks with other biomarkers, and then really marrying that with personalized medicine,” she explains. “We’ll be able not only to see how an individual is aging, but determine the best treatment for this person based on their aging profile curve, and that’s a really exciting opportunity.”
In terms of research that’s more in the future, Dr Jones hopes to take looking at the individual even further.
“There are a number of things that have already been associated with accelerated aging, such as chronic inflammation, metabolic syndrome, &c. Recognising that not everyone is going to have the same driver of aging means that the intervention or treatment that would extend the amount of time someone is healthy and independent is going to be different for different people.”
“…using all the tools in our toolbox to prevent diseases of aging or detect them earlier.”
Jones explains that this means the solution will not be one drug, or one exercise regimen for aging, because there will be “different flavours of aging” – different profiles that depend on the aging drivers for different individuals. “We could recognize that there might be three different major ways in which aging is happening to an individual and then determine a very personalized way to help that person improve their aging trajectory,” she says. “It’s the next step from personalised medicine; rather than personalised treatment, we’d be able to used personalised predictions and interventions, recommending a colorectal screening or a mammogram earlier than is standard because an individual is aging in a certain way.
“Basically, using all the tools in our toolbox to prevent diseases of aging or detect them earlier. This would include family history, a person’s environment, diet and a whole range of biomarkers and measurements to predict their likely drivers of aging and customising a response.”
“Intervention could be very specific, depending on your profile and your biomarkers,” continues Jones. “This where BARI fits, because we can take advantage of the clinical enterprise and expertise at UCSF; we’re going to be able to make an incredible impact because of all of the infrastructure there that already exists.”
“I think aging is a delay, or a decline in the ability to reset the rheostat of homeostasis.”
Dr Jones is well aware of how important longevity research is. “Our population is increasing in age, and although we’re focusing more on the types of diseases that tend to be more prevalent in older individuals, not everyone’s going to be suffering from disease,” she explains. “An aging population is going to change the way people interact, the way our cities, towns and communities look. It’s important to start thinking about those impacts now to ensure people are more independent and able to thrive. How do we as a community, or in a society support this?”
Homeostasis is a key area of longevity research for Dr Jones. “At the cellular level, whether it’s damage to DNA, misfolded proteins, oxidation that is damaging proteins, or other factors, you need to reset. When there’s damage, the cell needs to reset and bring back homeostasis. I think aging is a delay, or a decline in the ability to reset that rheostat. All of the areas in a cell that help maintain that homeostasis need to be understood in detail.”
Like many areas of longevity research, having an answer generates more questions. “How does understanding homeostasis translate to these blood-borne factors that are so important?” says Dr Jones. “That’s fascinating to me. I work on stem cells and how they become less responsive to signals as we get older. And Saul [UCSF neuroscientist Saul Villeda, PhD, Assistant Professor of Anatomy, Associate Director of BARI] works on how exercise can improve cognition. So how do you put those two things together, which are both under the basic biology of aging umbrella? That’s going to be a lot of fun!”
What is Dr Jones keen to pick others’ brains on, when it comes to aging?
“I’m really interested in cell mechanics, in how those mechanics change how a cell’s interaction with its environment, its neighbouring cells and its underlying support,” she says. “For instance, looking at a basement membrane and how alterations in the mechanical properties as a consequence of age can lead to cellular dysfunction. I’m really excited to learn more about biomechanics, particularly at the cellular level, and how that translates into changes in tissue function.”
We’ll be watching the Bakar Aging Research Institute’s progress with interest; with such a pedigree of scientists involved, a public-facing ethos and Dr Jones’s committed leadership, its future looks bright.