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Why study aging?

Figure 1. The need to understand and target age-associated decline is motivated by society and economic factors. Age is the primary risk factor (A, image credit: www.senescence.info) for the most common fatal diseases in modern society (B, image credit: CDC NCHS Data Brief (#178)). The average age of our population is rapidly increasing (C, image credit: The Economist), increasing the individual, societal, and economic cost of age-associated disease.

Research into the etiology and mechanistic underpinnings of specific diseases has clearly proven a productive strategy to develop targeted therapies. But what if there were a way to develop treatments capable of delaying the onset of broad categories of disease?

Age is the primary risk factor for the most prominent diseases in modern society (Figure 1A, B), and these diseases will become ever more prevalent as our population ages (Figure 1C). As an alternative to developing disease-specific treatments, therapeutic strategies that target the molecular processes that drive aging have the potential to extend healthy human lifespan and treat or delay multiple classes of age-associated disease simultaneously. In the Sutphin Lab we study the fundamental biology of aging. Our goal is to understand the molecular processes that drive aging, and leverage this understanding to develop this type of clinical strategy.

Aging is  characterized by a functional deterioration across the many cell and tissue types in our bodies, ultimately resulting in mortality. This deterioration is driven by a complex interplay between many molecular processes that is influenced by both our genetic make-up and our environment. We use a combination of systems and comparative genetics to identify novel genes that affect aging, characterize their role in determining longevity, and understand how they interact with both known aging processes and environmental variables. Using this approach, we aim to identify key genes and molecular processes that can be clinically manipulated to fundamentally slow the aging process and maintain health into old age.