Declining fertility rates, aging of the baby-boomers, and increasing life expectancy are leading to population aging. As the population ages, this increases the public-health burden of age-related conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and dementia. Treating un-prevented diseases in late life has proven costly and ineffective. It is now known that potentially preventable risk exposures and physiological causes of age-related disease emerge in childhood. This recognition lends new scientific significance to studies that have followed cohorts from childhood. It is also now known that the pathogenesis of age-related diseases involves gradually accumulating decline in organ systems, beginning in the first half of the life course. Consequently, new interventions aiming to prevent age-related diseases will have to be applied to individuals while they are yet young, before they reach midlife. Translation of basic-science geronotology discoveries into interventions for young humans is lacking because virtually nothing is known about the process of biological aging during the first half of the life course. This prompts our proposal to study the pace of biological aging from the twenties forward. We will use the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health & Development Study, a longitudinal study of a birth cohort now entering its fifth decade. This study combines methods of demographic/economic surveys, clinical- quality health assessments, biobanking, and linkage to nationwide administrative records (health, welfare, finances). We propose to administer a full-day data-collection protocol to the 1004 living members of the birth cohort. To assess each cohort member's pace of biological aging we will: (a) measure biomarkers across multiple organ systems, and (b) statistically model correlated change in these biomarkers assessed at ages 26, 32, 38, and 45 years. We will describe individual variation in the pace of aging, plus its developmental origins, genomic signatures, functional consequences, and economic costs. We will identify attributes that set apart individuals whose bodies are months or years younger than their chronological age. The proposed work will improve knowledge by generating findings to support future interventions to slow aging, prevent age-related disease, and improve the quality of longer lives.

Public Health Relevance

As the population ages and life expectancy grows longer, policy makers and citizens are concerned that our extra years should be healthy, productive, and enjoyable, not extra years of disease and disability. Finding new strategies to prevent age-related disease and disability requires research to identify risk factors in early-to- midlife that can be ameliorated or reversed, well before the onset of age-related disease. This recognition lends new scientific significance to studies that have followed cohorts from childhood to midlife, including the Dunedin Study. The proposed work will use biomarker data collected from the same 1000 individuals at ages 26, 32, 38, and 45 to track the pace of their biological aging. We will uncover why some people age faster than peers born in the same year, and why some fortunate people age more slowly than their age-peers. Findings are expected to support interventions to slow aging, prevent age-related diseases, and enhance preparedness for wellbeing in late life.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
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Behavioral Genetics and Epidemiology Study Section (BGES)
Program Officer
Nielsen, Lisbeth
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Duke University
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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