Notes from the 2013 AGE Meeting

The American Aging Association (AGE) held its 2013 meeting a few days ago. The program was a mix of old-school and irrelevant research such as the effects of specific foods on parameters of aging, nothing that's going to help us meaningfully extend life there, and the new and interesting such modulating autophagy to slow the effects of aging in specific tissues. Here are some notes from an attendee:

Several talks involved growth hormone one way or another. Growth hormone is hyped as an anti-aging remedy by many supplement sources, but its benefits are likely to be short-term, and there is substantial risk that it actually increases mortality risk in the long run. Holly Brown-Borg made this point quite explicitly. Her research is centered on two strains of mice, a dwarf strain which has a genetic defect for growth hormone, and lives 50% longer, the other is genetically engineered to have extra growth hormone, and it lives 50% shorter than ordinary lab mice. The dwarf mice are super-healthy and don't get cancer, but you can make them sick by giving them growth hormone.

There were several major presentations at the conference focused on rapamycin. Rapamycin binds to two sites, called TORC1 and TORC2 (TOR stands for "target of rapamycin"). Joe Bauer reported his theory that TORC2 holds most of the benefits, and TORC1 most of the dangers of rapamycin, and he is working to separate the two effects. Arlan Richardson offered an hour-long advertisement for rapamycin as a cancer treatment, for cardiac health and prevention of cognitive decline. He reluctantly admitted that it also causes cataracts, slows healing, and contributes to Type 2 diabetes. Conference consensus (including this author) is that rapamycin is an exciting new vehicle for studying aging, but as a general tonic, it's not ready for prime time.

I've been attending these meetings for several years, and I continue to find that the meetings are small, there are almost no MDs, and the research seems to occupy a backwater between bench science and medical research. Compared to cancer research or heart or lung disease, the field is way underfunded. Still, research in anti-aging medicine is growing, as policy-makers realize it is a way to address many diseases of old age with a powerful new paradigm.



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