Discussing the future of aging research with Specialty Chief Editors, Drs. Morten Scheibye-Knudsen and Richard Siow
In honor of the international day of Older Persons (October 1st) we spoke to the first onboarded Specialty Chief Editor of Frontiers in Aging, Dr. Morten Scheibye-Knudsen, and the most recently joining Specialty Chief Editor Dr. Richard Siow. Given Frontiers in Aging’s 1st Year anniversary we look forward to the future of the field of aging research, and its goals.
Dr. Morten Scheibye-Knudsen is the Specialty Chief Editor of the Interventions in Aging section, within Frontiers in Aging, and Associate Professor of DNA damage and interventions in aging, at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark. With the mission “to discover interventions leading to healthier, happier and more productive lives“, the Scheibye-Knudsen Lab is working on understanding the impact of DNA damage on a cellular and organismal level. This can then lead to the development of interventions to improve, not only our lifespan but importantly our health-span, towards a future of healthy aging.
Dr. Richard Siow is the Specialty Chief Editor of the newly launched Nutrition in Aging and Healthy Longevity section within Frontiers in Aging, and the Director of Aging Research at King’s (ARK), King’s College London, United Kingdom. Dr. Siow graduated in Nutrition and his research over the past 20 years has focused on cardiovascular aging and better understanding the role of diet and nutrigenomics on molecular pathways in aging and healthy longevity. The mission of ARK is to increase knowledge of aging mechanisms in collaboration with international academic and industry partners, allowing a multi-disciplinary understanding to be built around the many aspects of human aging and healthy physical, mental and financial longevity, ranging from cellular mechanisms through to geriatric medicine, care of the elderly and influencing policies at the societal level. Dr Siow is a member of the Strategic Advisory Board for UK All Party Parliamentary Group for Longevity and UK Chair for the International Society on Aging and Disease.
Frontiers in Aging launched at the end of September 2020 and has since added two Specialty Sections, covering genetics and genomics of aging and more recently nutrition in aging and healthy longevity, launched 38 article collections and published 59 articles on fascinating areas of aging research, from model organisms to immunosenescence to interventions in aging. Frontiers in Aging has been awarded an indexation in the Directory of Open Access Journals and is well on track to fulfill its mission to become the largest and most cited resource in its field. Its outstanding Editorial Board is led by Specialty Chief Editors who are key figures in their field, and with the dawn of a decade focusing on aging, Frontiers in Aging aims to publish multi-disciplinary papers on aging mechanisms, age-related disease, and importantly, interventions and healthy longevity.
On October 1st, the newest section of Frontiers in Aging, Nutrition in Aging and Healthy Longevity led by Dr Richard Siow, has officially launched and is now open for submissions – check it out here.
Shreya Sharma: What first attracted you to the field of Aging research?
Morten Scheibye-Knudsen: I have been interested in understanding aging since I was a teenager, having to watch my grandparents become old and frail seemed like a cruel fate. I felt more could be done about the aging process, and it seemed to me that growing old and dying was a terrible fate.
Richard Siow: I was fascinated by the diversity of processes associated with aging and the striking differences between individuals from diverse geographic locations and the influence of ethnicities and environments. I regard aging as a biological process driven by the passage of time from the moment of conception, through to the end of their life. The processes related to aging and healthy longevity can be accelerated or delayed and the magnitude and consequences of the changes can be increased or reduced by an individual’s personal exposome throughout their life course. The malleability of our health trajectory has led me to better understand the mechanisms of aging and longevity from a life course and personalized perspective.
SS: Which research areas would you like to see papers covering in Frontiers in Aging?
MSK: I am particularly interested in papers that give new insights into mechanisms of aging and how we can intervene in those mechanisms. When I say interventions, I mean any type of intervention that can influence aging, from behavioral to small molecules.
RS: Although there has been an increase in the awareness of the necessity of a life course approach to healthy aging, we still require a better understanding of the lifestyle adaptations and the cellular mechanisms to enhance longevity from an individual perspective, rather than medical or pharmaceutical interventions. Research on the mechanisms of age-related diseases and therapeutic clinical strategies is well established, however personalized and context specific strategies to extend health-span and longevity remain to be elucidated. These include a better understanding of cellular and molecular pathways as well as societal policies to enhance the awareness of maintaining wellness on an individual level together with interventions delivered through health and social care.
SS: Where do you see the field of Aging in the next five years, and how can Frontiers in Aging contribute to this?
MSK: There is a great drive towards trials targeting aging in humans. We have more than 500 small molecules affecting aging in animal models but nothing in humans so far. Now there is an opportunity to translate our findings towards human interventions. I think we will soon witness the first randomized controlled trials suggesting that human aging can be ameliorated.
RS: The ongoing pandemic has highlighted that individuals of the same age have different susceptibility and severity of responses to Covid-19. As the incidence and severity of symptoms has impacted the elderly and those with age-related multi-morbidities to a greater extent, Frontiers in Aging will be an important platform to better inform the global academic and industry community about research focused on targeting population health throughout the life course.
Frontiers in Aging will act as a trusted global voice to highlight the importance of lifestyle, dietary and pharma-/nutraceutical interventions to maintain wellness and increase the awareness of healthy longevity through enhanced resilience to age-related conditions.
SS: What challenges and developments can we expect to see in this field in the next few years?
MSK: We are facing several challenges. There is push back from the clinical community to accept that the aging process can be a target for preventative medicine. We need to better understand the usability of aging biomarkers or aging clocks as outcome measures in aging trials. Along with this, we need to show that interventions can decrease all-cause mortality. For drug development is critical that aging, or some aspects of aging, is acknowledged as an FDA approved target. This will allow doctors to prescribe medicines for aging, and for drug developers to create treatments that can be reimbursed by health insurance companies.
RS: Development of novel technologies to monitor multiple parameters of health will provide individuals with a personalized signature of biological age. This will enable people to be better informed about the necessity of interventions on an individual level to reduce the risk and severity of age-related conditions at an earlier stage before the onset of clinical symptoms, thereby reducing the financial burden on insurance and national healthcare systems. The challenge will be to better understand the analytics and integration of multimodal data in the context of personalized physical and mental wellness for healthy longevity. The global impact of the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to increase the incidence and severity of age-related diseases, reduce health-span, and increase healthcare costs over the next decade. Therefore, academic and industry Research and Development to develop therapeutic strategies and lifestyle/dietary interventions will help to mitigate the decline in life-expectancy and enhance healthy longevity.
SS: In the context of 2021-2030 being declared by WHO as the decade of healthy aging, what are you most excited about currently in the field?
MSK: The field is really exploding currently. In particular, on the industry side multiple new companies are emerging that are aiming to target aging and age-associated pathologies. These companies will become critical for commercializing aspects of aging interventions and may spur on larger pharma companies to follow suit. This is very exciting and will of course require basic science to proceed as well.
RS: A better understanding of how healthy aging and longevity can be extended through simple and low-cost lifestyle interventions (such as diet, physical activity and mental wellness) on an individual level is required in parallel with ongoing pharmaceutical and vaccine discovery with associated clinical and therapeutic strategies. As the global population demographics are continually changing, enhancing wellness in the elderly and their resilience against age-related diseases will become increasingly important in both industrialized and developing nations.
Research in aging and longevity together with advanced data analytics through artificial intelligence will better inform government and industry policymakers so that a global consensus to raise the awareness of issues and strategies can be implemented through initiatives such as the WHO Decade of Healthy Aging.
SS: Can you tell us a little about your current work?
MSK: My lab focuses on developing interventions for age-associated pathologies. In particular, repurposing already existing drugs, and developing small molecules targeting premature aging disorders. We are also interested in combining computational approaches on large datasets, including registry data covering millions of individuals, with machine learning aided laboratory analyses. A long-term interest of the lab is understanding how genome instability contributes to aging and how we can intervene in this process. Premature aging diseases could, in this context, give us an angle to develop treatments that can be FDA approved without specifically targeting aging in the general population.
RS: As Director of Aging Research at King’s (ARK), my vision has been to establish an international academic-industry hub to promote healthy longevity innovation and to better inform government health policy decisions. ARK was a founding member of the UK All Party Parliamentary Group for Longevity and has global academic and industry partnerships to facilitate aging research from a life course perspective to enhance physical, mental and financial longevity from cell to society. ARK has recently developed a strategic alliance with the Healthy Longevity Innovation Cluster at University of Zurich and their WHO Collaborating Centre Network for Healthy Aging to enhance ARK’s innovations in international industry, academic and policy research collaborations. My own research focuses on dietary strategies for healthy aging and nutrigenomic interventions age-related cardiovascular diseases from a translational biomedicine perspective.