The Most-Cited Near Future Directions in Aging Research

Citations in an academic paper have some similarities to links in the web, or at least in the case where those links are a result of human choice and consideration. Considered in the abstract, a citation is a vote of attention rather than an opinion on the contents of the cited paper. To find out what the author actually thinks you'd have to read and understand the paper, something that is largely beyond today's expert systems software. If you want to systematically analyse academic sentiment in a field, however, even one as comparatively small as aging research, software is nonetheless what you will be using. There are too many people making too many citations to go about this in any other way.

The group of researchers quoted below took a hybrid approach to the challenge of a more rigorous determination of the consensus position of what comes next for aging research. They used the web of citations to find a handful of the most cited papers - a very simple piece of automated analysis - and then processed the contents of those papers with the Mark I Human Brain. This is the present best of both worlds: take advantage of the tasks that computers find easy and the tasks that we humans find easy and merge the work somewhere in the middle. The processing cycles of graduate students, much like those of modern computers, are cheap and widely available these days.

If you make a habit of following my litany of complaints about the state of the field of aging research then the results of this analysis of the mainstream focus will come with few surprises attached. It is all about gently slowing aging through manipulation of metabolism, establishing greater knowledge of the fine details of metabolic changes with aging, use of stem cells, telomere biology, and and some items relating to present day treatment strategies for the most common age-related conditions, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The class of aging research I favor, repairing the cellular damage that causes aging after the SENS model, is still barely gaining a foothold as a coherent strategy in the bigger picture. That is the only path towards true rejuvenation of the old and prevention of age-related disease, however, as present approaches are merely going to make the old slightly less impacted by the processes of damage accumulation that are eating them alive.

Of modern medical research, stem cell research, cancer research, and probably immunology are about the only fields with sizable factions that are heading more or less in the right direction, working on classes of treatment that might actually be considered damage repair. That's two and half distinct damage processes out of seven and a half or so that make up aging, depending on who is counting. A lot more has to be accomplished yet.

Aging and energetics' 'Top 40' future research opportunities 2010-2013

Energetics can be defined as the study of the causes, mechanisms, and consequences of the acquisition, storage, and utilization of metabolizable energy by biological organisms. The United States - indeed the world - is currently undergoing a crisis of excess energy storage, sometimes called the obesity epidemic. A consistent finding from ecology, basic laboratory science, and epidemiologic research is that aspects of energetics, including the perceived and actual availability of food, the ingestion of food, the composition of the food consumed, the amount of body energy accreted and expended, affect disease and disability, senescence, mortality rate, and longevity.

To identify research priorities and opportunities in the domain of aging and energetics as advocated in the 40 most cited papers related to aging and energetics in the last 4 years. The investigators conducted a search for papers on aging and energetics in Scopus, ranked the resulting papers by number of times they were cited, and selected the ten most-cited papers in each of the four years that include 2010 to 2013, inclusive.

Ten research categories were identified from the 40 papers. These included: (1) Calorie restriction (CR) longevity response, (2) role of mTOR (mechanistic target of Rapamycin) and related factors in lifespan extension, (3) nutrient effects beyond energy (especially resveratrol, omega-3 fatty acids, and selected amino acids), 4) autophagy and increased longevity and health, (5) aging-associated predictors of chronic disease, (6) use and effects of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), (7) telomeres relative to aging and energetics, (8) accretion and effects of body fat, (9) the aging heart, and (10) mitochondria, reactive oxygen species, and cellular energetics.

The paper is open access and contains a very readable overview of each of these areas. It is worth a look as a matter of interest. This is after all a fair cross-section of the work being funded today, to a first approximation, and which must largely be supplanted in the near future by damage repair approaches if we are to see significant gains in health human life span and meaningful treatments for age-related degeneration in the old within our lifetimes.


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