Scientists want to develop ways to improve human lifespan, so people live longer, healthier lives
The Potocsnak Longevity Institute at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has launched the Human Longevity Laboratory, a longitudinal, cross-sectional study that will investigate the relationship between chronological age and biological age across different organ systems and validate interventions that may reverse or slow down the processes of aging.
“The relationship between chronological age (how many years old you are) and biological age (how old your body appears in terms of your overall health), and how they may differ, is key to understanding human longevity,” said Douglas Vaughan, MD, director of the Potocsnak Longevity Institute at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, which includes the Human Longevity Laboratory. “Knowledge gained from this research may allow scientists to develop methods to slow the process of aging and push back the onset of aging-related disease, hopefully extending the ‘healthspan.’”
Anyone is eligible to participate in the Northwestern research study, but the scientists are focused on studying people who are disadvantaged with respect to biological aging, including those with HIV.
“We are particularly interested in bringing in people who are at risk for accelerated aging — people with chronic HIV infections, patients with chronic kidney disease, people exposed to toxic substances regularly (smoke and chemicals) and others,” said Vaughan, the Irving S. Cutter Professor of Medicine Emeritus in the Division of Cardiology. “Our primary aim is to find ways to slow down the rate of aging in people that are aging too quickly and provide them with an opportunity to extend their healthspan.”
The comprehensive research protocol includes assessments across various systems (cardiovascular, respiratory, neurocognitive, metabolic and musculoskeletal), and novel molecular profiling of the epigenome. The studies will be performed at no cost to participants at Northwestern Medicine.
Over the next year, the team plans to enroll a diverse cohort representing individuals of all ages, ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds to form a picture of how aging affects all members of the population.
A participant’s results will be reviewed with them after their testing is complete.
“That is information that might motivate some participants to improve their lifestyle, exercise more, lose weight or change their diet,” said John Wilkins, MD, associate director of the Human Longevity Laboratory. Wilkins is also an associate professor of Medicine in Cardiology and of Preventive Medicine at the Feinberg School of Medicine, as well as a Northwestern Medicine physician.
Ultimately, the Human Longevity Laboratory will launch clinical trials designed to test therapeutics or interventions that might slow the velocity of aging.
View this site for more information on the study.
Vaughan plans to develop a network of sites duplicating the Human Longevity Laboratory with partners in the U.S. and globally.
“We hope to clone our laboratory in terms of basic equipment and the protocol,” Vaughan said. “We intend to build a large database that is the most diverse and comprehensive in the world that will contribute significantly to our research.”
Potential collaborative partners and sites have already been identified in Asia, Brazil, the Netherlands and in West Africa.
The Human Longevity Laboratory is part of the multi-center Potocsnak Longevity Institute, whose goal is to foster new discoveries and build on Northwestern’s ongoing research in the rapidly advancing science of aging. The Institute is funded by a gift from Chicago industrialist John Potocsnak and family.
“Aging is a primary risk factor for every disease affecting adults — including diabetes, arthritis, dementia, heart disease, diabetes, aging-related cancer, hypertension and frailty,” Vaughan said. “The biological processes that drive aging may be malleable. We think we can slow that process down, delay it, even theoretically reverse it. The curtain is being pulled back on what drives aging. We want to contribute to that larger discovery process.”