Main content
Redefining how scientists measure the aging process
Medical exam of an elderly person

A faculty member at Emory’s School of Medicine has co-edited a special issue of the journal Aging Cell that challenges biomedical research’s traditional focus on individual aging-related diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease and dementia in favor of science that focuses on the whole person.

“A lot has been learned about the biological aging process, both at the cellular and the molecular levels,” says Vincent Marconi, MD, professor in the School of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases and professor of Global Health in the Rollins School of Public Health. “However, improving both lifespan and health is a difficult challenge because health is affected by so many factors including the environment and genes. It’s particularly difficult to do this for individuals facing chronic conditions, stress, and socioeconomic barriers.”

The special issue of Aging Cell, co-edited with Monty Montano of Harvard Medical School and Kris Ann K. Oursler of Virginia Tech, was created to reconceptualize healthy aging as a holistic process that needs to be studied across the whole body. To do this, the editors invited not only manuscripts about biological pathways to aging, but also holistic approaches and interventions that target multiple levels and pathways at once. Marconi hopes this approach will encourage researchers to think about how to integrate the gerosciences of aging and alternative/complementary interventions in order to spur further research in the same direction.

Authors in this issue investigated aging-related topics from a range of perspectives including the observable characteristics of biological aging, biological mechanisms that increase disease risk with aging and developing both biological and behavioral interventions to the aging process. Specific topics include:

  • Whether genetic variations in centenarians confer protection from age-related diseases
  • Cardiorespiratory fitness and its role in health and lifespan
  • Healthy aging as an integrated whole-body process based on biology, behavior and the physical and social environment
  • The association between complexity of blood pressure fluctuations and vascular alterations due to aging
  • Integrating humanism into patient care to address physical and metaphysical needs
  • How religious and existential variables relate to psychosocial factors and biomarkers related to cardiovascular risk.
  • Impact of physical activity and exercise compared with lack of muscle use on gene function 

While lifespan has dramatically improved in the last 70 years, the editors say aging issues have also become worse in some ways because of changes in diet, lifestyle, stress and social relationships. They created the special issue believing that the multiple dimensions of aging require equally multidimensional, interdisciplinary research that links the psychological and social experiences of aging to its biological markers. 

Beyond the absence of disease, a growing body of evidence suggests healthy aging must also integrate every aspect of the body and mind to optimize the way people experience their lives. These include thinking, behavior, the senses, the cells and the molecules.

Recent News