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Geroscience and Health in Aging

geroscience-diagramGeroscience: The intersection of basic aging biology, chronic disease, and health

As we grow older, we are more likely to be diagnosed with one or more chronic ailments. These ailments include life-threatening diseases such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer, as well as debilitating conditions like arthritis, fatigue, and frailty. These ailments rob us of our quality of life. The question is: How does the aging process affect the disease process and susceptibility—and vice versa?

Over the years, researchers studying the basic science of aging have sought to answer this question, but their work was confined primarily to investigations of the specific activities and mechanisms that contribute to the aging process, and not as much on the effects of the aging process on various diseases. While aging itself isn't a disease, the aging process represents a major risk factor for several chronic diseases and conditions, including frailty and lack of resilience.

Geroscience takes a different approach, seeking to understand the genetic, molecular, and cellular mechanisms that make aging a major risk factor and driver of common chronic conditions and diseases of older people.

A National Institute of Health (NIH) wide initiative

One of the first steps in advancing geroscience was to demonstrate that this approach is likely to affect research in many fields.

Traditionally, biomedical research has focused primarily on specific diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and, more recently, Alzheimer's and related dementias. But aging affects the onset and progression of all of these diseases and is a common risk factor for them. By studying what happens during aging at the genetic, molecular, and cellular levels, investigators hope to discover the similarities and differences among these conditions as they relate to aging.

In 2013, nearly 500 scientists, advocates, and others interested in health and aging gathered on the NIH campus for a first Summit meeting, Advances in Geroscience: Impact on Healthspan and Chronic Disease.

 Geroscience advances

A second geroscience summit, The Disease Drivers of Aging: 2016 Advances in Geroscience Summit, was held in 2016.  Planning for a third geroscience summit in spring 2019 is underway.

Future research directions

People are living longer today because of progress in medical care. But many people suffer from debilitating conditions because research has focused on curing life-threatening diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. For the growing population of older adults, geroscience may provide novel preventive or diagnostic measures that can reduce the burden of age-related disease and disability.

The ultimate goal of geroscience is to accelerate research into the basic mechanisms driving aging, which could lead to improved clinical interventions. Toward that goal, the GSIG remains focused on discovering the basic biology at the intersection among aging, chronic disease, frailty, and resilience. Basic biology renders the process of aging the major risk factor for the age-related decline in health, threatening an increasingly older population.

For more information on geroscience, see