Could 100 be the new 50?

Absolutely. JAX researchers are using genomic technologies and specialized mouse models to decipher the changes that occur as a consequence of aging in order to extend our health span, delay age-related health issues, repair damaged organs, and improve our quality of life.

Aging Research, The Jackson Laboratory, Aging Gracefully, Old Age
  • As we age, we face increased risk for many deadly diseases and hard-to-manage conditions, including Alzheimer’s disease, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, kidney failure, glaucoma and most cancers.
  • Most research today is focused on diseases such as these as separate entities, whereas less research is focused on the mechanisms of aging itself.
  • The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to more than double from 46 million today to over 98 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group's share of the total population will rise to nearly 24 percent from 15 percent. To put this in perspective, in 1900 only 4.1 percent of Americans were 65 years old or older, and in 1970 only 9.9 percent.

JAX Research: Tackling age-related diseases

Delaying the onset of chronic and acute age-related illnesses

People are living longer and the elderly are at greater risk for severe chronic and acute illnesses. These health issues are expensive to treat and often require prolonged care. But pain and disease may not be an inevitable part of growing older. 

Cancer researcher Jennifer Trowbridge wants to know why older people are more susceptible to developing AML and is exploring strategies to target the disease before it even starts.

Kidney function declines with age, and JAX scientist Ron Korstanje is conducting research across species — including zebrafish, mice and even black bears — to find ways to turn back the clock on kidney decline.

Glaucoma is one of the most common neurodegenerative diseases, affecting an estimated 80 million people worldwide. In his lab, Simon W.M. John found that adding vitamin B3 into drinking water of mice genetically predisposed to glaucoma is effective at preventing the disease.

Working hard to understand what goes right in healthy aging

Just as some people live to extraordinary old age in good health and sound mental processes, genetically varied mouse colonies at JAX such as the Collaborative Cross and Diversity Outbred populations have produced individual mice that live far beyond the average, some to over four years. New imaging tools, combined with precise genotyping, are providing researchers with insights into genes involved in healthy aging. 

JAX immunologist Jacques Banchereau and colleagues are recruiting healthy elderly patients to understand why their immune systems continue to mount a good response to pneumococcal pneumonia vaccines. The decline in immune response in many elderly people puts them at elevated risk for the disease, and Banchereau hopes to find ways to boost this response in less-healthy seniors and other immune-compromised patients.

JAX researcher David Harrison is working to discover which pharmaceuticals, dietary supplements and foods have the potential to extend lifespan and delay disease and dysfunction in mice. Harrison led a group that demonstrated the first significant increase in mammalian life span using a pharmacological agent, in this case rapamycin, a drug commonly used to suppress immune response. 

Testing how your diet affects your health over time

The longer we live, the more impact our lifestyle choices, such as diet and exercise, may have on the severity of our disease risk.

In his lab, JAX researcher Gareth Howell has demonstrated a link between the so-called "Western diet (high in fats and sugars, low in plant and nutrient content) and some of the processes associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

There’s also a well-established link between the Western diet and type 2 diabetes, which is typically develops in middle age but which is causing a health crisis in increasingly younger populations. JAX scientist Michael Stitzel has developed a new technique to sort diabetic from non-diabetic pancreatic cells to better understand how the disease develops.