The OncoAge consortium is a scientific interest group focused on the overlap between cancer and aging. Like many factions in the broader aging research community, its members are apparently giving cellular senescence a great deal of their attention these days. Better late than never, I'd say, but this focus is arguably less of an example of scrambling to catch up in their case than for purely aging-focused researchers. After all, the cancer research community studied cellular senescence to a significant degree well prior to the 2011 proof of concept study that finally persuaded gerontologists that accumulation of senescence cells is an important cause of degenerative aging.
My usual complaint about this situation is that clear evidence for that position on cellular senescence and aging was out there in plain view for two to three decades prior to that point, and simply dismissed. It wasn't until the SENS movement started to agitate on the topic in the early 2000s that matters started to move forward. Scientists are just as irrational en masse as the rest of humanity, be assured. The current development of senolytics as a rejuvenation therapy could have started twenty years ago, given a world in which different people were in charge of scientific strategy and funding. How many lives has that cost?
Chronological age is the most important single risk factor for the development of a variety of cancers and chronic diseases that account for the majority of societal morbidity, mortality, and public health costs. Recent findings suggest that changes in certain basic biological processes are shared in physiological aging, cancer, and degenerative pathologies. Importantly, similar processes can be altered in diseases as diverse as cancer, neurodegeneration, cardiovascular disorders, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), osteoarthritis, and diabetes, to name a few.
For instance, at the cellular level, the accumulation in tissues of senescent cells (permanent cell cycle arrest in response to various types of stress or tissue remodeling) emerges as an important contributor to aging and age-related pathologies, through both cell autonomous and non-autonomous mechanisms driving inflammation, immunosenescence, and tissue degeneration. Therefore, a key challenge now is to rapidly improve our knowledge on the biological processes in common that lead to malignant transformation and degenerative pathologies.
From a cellular standpoint, the mechanisms that drive degenerative diseases and cancer are shared at an initial phase (e.g., during the accumulation of senescent cells), before adopting a particular direction and specific genetic and epigenetic modifications that orient cells toward distinct fates (e.g., escape of cellular checkpoints for cancer cells). Thus, schematically, degenerative aging and cancer can be considered as two sides of the same coin, involving many common fundamental biological mechanisms. Hence, the progressive degeneration of tissues can lead to transformation into cancer after activation of chronic inflammation and immunosenescence.
Although cancer and aging biology are closely related, they are often investigated separately. Thus, whereas a number of fundamental and translational research centers or institutes worldwide have oriented their research in the direction of aging, only a few of them have really focused their studies on the links between aging and cancer. This is the case for the Institute for Research on Cancer and Aging, Nice (IRCAN) in France, which bases its overarching strategy on combining the research developed by scientists and physicians on cancer and aging mechanisms. It is within this context that the OncoAge consortium was launched in Nice to facilitate the transfer of this growing knowledge on cancer and aging to medical innovation and current medical practice.
This consortium was certified and recognized in 2015 as a Hospital-University Federation (HUF). The global aim of the HUF program in France is to develop excellence within the university hospitals by targeting medical topics optimizing care, research, and education in these subject areas. In short, OncoAge is a HUF based on the expertise of medical and scientific teams oriented toward cancer pathologies associated with aging. The key aim of OncoAge is to improve the care of elderly patients, in particular those with cancer, to set up research projects, and develop training and educational programs in this domain. These efforts should not only deepen our understanding of the mechanisms underlying cancer and aging, but also improve the daily well-being of the patients.