IEET > Affiliate Scholar > Melanie Swan > HealthLongevity > Enablement > Innovation
Emerging Health Technologies: Interventional anti-aging
Melanie Swan   Jun 22, 2011   Ethical Technology  

The focus of the 40th annual meeting of the American Aging Association, held a few weeks ago in North Carolina, was emerging concepts in the mechanisms of aging.

Most of the usual topics in aging were covered, such as dietary restriction, inflammation, stress resistance, homeostasis and proteasome activity, sarcopenia, and neural degeneration. Newer methods like microRNAs and genome sequencing were employed to investigate gene expression variance with aging and genetic signatures of longevity.

Aging as a field continues to mature including by using a systems approach to tracing conserved pathways across organisms, sharpening definitions of sarcopenia, frailty, and healthspan, and distinguishing interventions by age tier (early-onset versus late-onset). A pre-conference session on late-onset intervention concluded that there are numerous benefits to deriving such interventions.

imageMany of the conference talks had a translational focus, applying the biology of aging to the development of anti-aging interventions:

Major conference sessions, summarized below, highlighted microRNAs and the epigenetics of aging, the comparative biology of aging, stress resistance in aging and disease, translational aging research, the environment and aging, cardiovascular aging, and late onset interventions against aging.

Late-onset intervention against aging: tools, approaches, impact

A pre-conference meeting investigated late-onset intervention against aging, finding that appropriate interventions may vary by age group. Even if late-onset interventions are challenging, time-consuming, and expensive to develop, they are still desirable given the substantial economic, political, and personal benefits.[1] A quantitative analysis considered a variety of life extension scenarios, and determined that overpopulation or other concerns would be unlikely to arise even in aggressive cases.[2]

MicroRNAs: emerging tool for aging process elucidation and intervention

MicroRNAs (miRNAs, an abundant class of approximately 22-nucleotide small regulatory RNAs) were discussed as an emerging tool for investigating aging-related gene expression and the dynamic systems processes of aging. Over 900 miRNA genes have been identified in the human genome. Expression may vary dramatically over lifetime in different conditions of aging. MiRNAs may also be used as a leading indicator of aging, predicting the onset of aging-related disease as their levels change before aging is apparent in other ways. For example, p16 (a tumor suppressor) miRNA increases 1.2-fold per decade, an average of a 16-fold increase over an eight decade human lifespan. A second example is that miR-71 expression patterns in early adulthood have been found to correlate with lifespan in worms.[3] It may be useful to target miRNAs in anti-aging interventions, for example through selective deletion. Adding to the complexity, MiRNAs are themselves subject to a variety of complex posttranscriptional regulation processes.[4]

Comparative biology: naked mole rats, endocrine aging, telomere length, and oxidative stress resistance

The comparative biology of aging was a lens for the discussion of aging process characterization in the naked mole rat (NMR), reproductive aging and the benefits of dietary restriction (DR) in the Rhesus Macaque, how replicative aging and repressed telomerase may have evolved, and Nrf2 dysfunction as a causal factor in age-related oxidative stress.

Stress resistance: fasting, amino acid deprivation, TORC1 inhibition and rapamycin, and Nrf2 activation

A number of stress resistance topics were discussed including the benefits of fasting in chemotherapy and acute stress, that amino acid (e.g., protein) restriction may be more important than caloric restriction, how the mechanisms of TORC1 inhibition and rapamycin in the TOR (target of rapamycin) pathway act to extend lifespan, and Nrf2 anti-inflammation activation through metformin.

Translational aging research: remedy of frailty and sarcopenia

A translational aging research session focused on ameliorating frailty and sarcopenia. Sarcopenia is characterized mainly as an excessive reduction in skeletal muscle mass, but also includes changes in adiposity. It is an ‘undefined’ condition in that it is not yet prescribable and does not have agreed-upon measurement parameters and cut-off points for intervention. One definitional approach could be measuring loss of function in physical performance, for example gait speed has been linked with survival in humans [5] as well as falls and Timed Up and Go (TUG) capability.[6] Frailty, on the other hand, is a diagnosable geriatric syndrome which is defined by one or more factors: a decline in strength and activity, an increase in inflammation, involuntary weight loss, exhaustion, slow walking speed, and reduced grip strength. Proposed interventions were pharmacological including myostatin inhibition, losartan, JAK pathway inhibitors, and enalapril.

Personalized therapies: organ regeneration and stem cells

One of the most exciting, and possibly near-term solutions for aging-related conditions is regenerative medicine, using an individual’s own stem cells to recreate organs for transplantation and as a cell source for cellular therapies. Regenerative medicine efforts are currently underway in 20-30 organs, particularly at the Atala lab. There are also numerous uses for stem cell therapies, two for example are improving neural stem cell genesis and treating neurodegenerative disease, and ameliorating telomere dysfunction present in both aging pathologies and disease states.

Genetics and aging

In genetics and aging, research was presented suggesting that centenarians, while having the same disease mutational profile as non-centenarians, have other aspects to their genetic profile that indicate a signature for exceptional longevity. Other work found 27 specific longevity SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms), and demonstrated a means of measuring the rate of epigenetic mutations in aging.

Dietary restriction (DR) and DR mimetics

Dietary restriction (DR) is a known technique for increasing longevity in model organisms. As it may be infeasible to implement in humans, DR mimetics that would produce the same prolongevity impact are sought. This would likely be in the form of pharmaceuticals that would target the same pathways and proteins (e.g.; TOR, sirtuins, and AMP kinases) involved in the biophysical response to DR. TOR is a strong candidate based its conserved pathway across organisms and successful experimental results in animals.

Immune system and infection

The decline of the immune system is a central problem in aging. Research was presented discussing immune system impairment being exacerbated by viral infection and how cellular senescence may promote bacterial infection in addition to aging.

Practical applications

One nice aspect of aging conferences is that there usually are a few gems of information that can be applied immediately in humans, in this case in the areas of pharmaceuticals, nutrition, lifestyle, exercise, and fasting:

Additional information

A more detailed preprint of the official Meeting Summary is available here.


1. de Grey AD. Reaping the longevity dividend in time: biogerontology heavyweights advocate seeking late-onset interventions against aging. Rejuvenation Res. 2010 Aug;13(4):383-5.

2. Gavrilov LA, Gavrilova NS. Demographic consequences of defeating aging. Rejuvenation Res. 2010 Apr-Jun;13(2-3):329-34.

3. de Lencastre A, Pincus Z, Zhou K, Kato M, Lee SS, Slack FJ. MicroRNAs both promote and antagonize longevity in C. elegans. Curr Biol. 2010 Dec 21;20(24):2159-68.

4. Newman MA, Thomson JM, Hammond SM. Lin-28 interaction with the Let-7 precursor loop mediates regulated microRNA processing. RNA. 2008 Aug;14(8):1539-49.

5. Studenski S, Perera S, Patel K, Rosano C, Faulkner K, Inzitari M, Brach J, Chandler J, Cawthon P, Connor EB, Nevitt M, Visser M, Kritchevsky S, Badinelli S, Harris T, Newman AB, Cauley J, Ferrucci L, Guralnik J. Gait speed and survival in older adults. JAMA. 2011 Jan 5;305(1):50-8.

6. Viccaro LJ, Perera S, Studenski SA. Is timed up and go better than gait speed in predicting health, function, and falls in older adults? J Am Geriatr Soc. 2011 May;59(5):887-92.

7. Boyd O, Weng P, Sun X, Alberico T, Laslo M, Obenland DM, Kern B, Zou S. Nectarine promotes longevity in Drosophila melanogaster. Free Radic Biol Med. 2011 Jun 1;50(11):1669-78.

Melanie Swan
Melanie Swan, MBA, is an Affiliate Scholar of the IEET. Ms. Swan, principal of the MS Futures Group, is a philosopher, science and technology futurist, and options trader.


thanks for the info!  I’m going to run out now, I’ll run 3 miles and buy some ... blackberries?  is that it?  almonds?  no?  oh gosh.. I totally forgot already…

Hi Melanie,

Are you sure about Açai? I spoke with Dr. Zou at the meeting, and understood that it had had no effect on lifespan. It would be very ironic if it turned out that this quackery at least helped out the fruit flies that are its major consumers ...


Staying young seems so much hard work, you might die of exhaustion.

Oh you cynical comedians- how dare you, you’re just as bad as the rest of us. At any rate, at this moment we’ve got 80 mg. aspirin regimen & 500 mg. vitamin C; both cost effective—so we might be able to add a few months to our lives.

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