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Translational Aging Research: Challenges and Opportunities
Aim. The Lorentz workshop brought clinicians, epidemiologists, basic scientists and computational scientists together to focus on the translational potential of knowledge created in the field of ageing research. Although it became clear that research in elderly people to improve care, biomedical research to improve the health span, and basic science to unravel molecular and cellular ageing mechanisms are different scientific communities the aim of the meeting was to find innovative ways to improve communication and to seek common research questions. Moreover, we aimed to describe how the instruments and tools in model systems can be placed at the service of Population and Patient-based studies to deliver true translational research: the end result should be applicable in the clinic, in prevention, diagnosis or treatment.
Outcome. Clinicians and biologists are equally focused on finding drivers and markers of biological ageing. The main conclusion of the workshop was that to improve translational potential of the ageing field clinical researchers and basic scientists should jointly establish pipelines of connected research strategies focused on functional systems such as the musculoskeletal or neurocardiovasular system. Crucial for this is that navigators should be trained that connect clinical and basic research within these pipelines. Based on state-of-the-art knowledge, the field needs to prioritize the most informative and functional biomarker sets that indicate physiological ageing in human systems. This is vital to monitor health improvement in response to for instance interventions. Research in animal models should maximize the comparability of phenotypes and related pathways to match those relevant in human ageing. At the same time, animal-based studies into molecular mechanisms of ageing potentially reveal hubs in vital and conserved regulatory systems and will thus contribute to novel targets for intervention. This is important as drugs are often developed for their effect on surrogate endpoints, but due to the pleiotropic effects of treatment, drugs frequently fail to improve the clinical endpoint or even adversely affect health. The better the molecular networks of ageing humans are understood, assisted by animal research, the better the surrogate endpoints can be chosen.
Improve communication. For The Netherlands the conclusions of the Lorentz workshop will be presented at the kick-off meeting of the Dutch Society for Research on Ageing (DuSRA) that has recently been founded in 2015. Again at that meeting the focus is on how to connect clinical and basic research. Also as a consequence of the Lorenz meeting we approached the Clinical Society for Internal Medicine to become formally connected to the DuSRA to secure that joint meetings will be organised and that mutually beneficial research agendas will be drafted.
Stimulate Healthy Ageing. A decline in function is detectable from the thirties onward in humans but with the gain of knowledge there are increasing opportunities to intervene. The decline is a highly heterogeneous process, not linear, and includes metabolic shifts at different points in the lifetime and stochastic changes that diversify the phenotypes of ageing individuals. To understand the driving forces behind this variation research is needed from stem cell and genetic research through to the role of lifestyle and nutrition. All these research lines encompass the aim and potential to deliver molecular targets and to lifestyle and nutritional interventions to stimulate healthy ageing. The Lorentz concept worked very stimulating as indicated by the enthusiastic responses of participants. After many working group discussions systems pipeline concepts began to emerge demonstrating that joint efforts between clinical research and basic science to design such pipelines is vital to book any translational progress. The format of the Lorentz meeting helped us clarify how to bring working groups together in the near future. This awareness is timely; at the DuSRA kick off meeting also the scientific director of the National Institutes of Ageing (NIA) USA will indicate how the NIA has made attempts to bring the right parties together for translational research strategies. The Dutch Ageing research community is now primed to improve the situation in The Netherlands and to jointly approach policy makers and funding agencies to help setting our targets and work on the pipelines we will define.
A summary of the Lorentz meeting is being finalised both from the scientific and public perspectives created by members of the organizing committee and journalist Rebecca Miler, respectively.