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Challenge: Aging Research

Vision
As an object of research, the human body is a highly complex network with a multiplicity of interactions, aging-associated changes in biological molecules, and around 25,000 human genes in a considerably larger network of proteins. One of the most important goals is to understand the interplay in and among these networks and not just look at the aging of individual cells. This could define areas of intervention for realizing CECAD’s vision of effectively countering aging-associated diseases in the future.

What are the effects of aging on the body?
One of the central mechanisms often disrupted as people age is mitochondrial function. All living creatures need working mitochondria to survive. As they operate though, they also release free oxygen radicals that damage the cells and set off a whole chain of errors implicated in the pathogenesis of neurodegenerative diseases.

The effect of DNA damage on the body is another key mechanism of aging. As people grow older, there is a partial or complete loss of cell function in many tissues and organs, as DNA damage accumulates with time. This damage can accumulate in any type of cell, where it may trigger changes including cancer.

In addition to DNA damage, protein aggregates also accumulate. As the body ages, the cell’s quality control mechanisms can no longer remove damaged proteins. They accumulate, acting as potential triggers for neurodegenerative disease and leading to the degeneration of other organs. CECAD scientists are therefore focusing on the processes that result in the loss of quality control.

The cell membrane also reflects the aging process. Cell membranes consist primarily of lipids (fats) whose composition changes with age. The membranes stiffen, and the cell’s ability to protect itself from pathogens diminishes. This is one reason why older people are more susceptible to infectious diseases.

Age-associated changes in cell metabolism trigger inflammatory reactions. They are the intermediaries between cellular stress and tissue damage and influence metabolic homeostasis of the tissue as a whole by disrupting individual cells. Inflammatory processes therefore play a key role in the development of aging-associated diseases.

Research into diabetes and obesity is also extremely relevant to society. Metabolic processes are regulated in the brain. If faulty signaling at the molecular level throws this regulation out of balance, lipid and sugar metabolism in the body are affected. The hormones leptin and insulin play major roles in the process. They regulate metabolic mechanisms that allow more healthy aging of the body and can increase lifespan.