January 22, 2018

UAB researcher awarded grant to evaluate resilience as a predictor of healthspan

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steven austad 2018 streamSteven Austad, Ph.D.University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Biology chair Steven Austad, Ph.D., received a five-year, $1.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the differences in males and females that may indicate length and quality of life in mice, which in turn will dramatically improve human health and reduce human misery.

“Aging of the human population has become the number one threat to human health globally,” said Austad, a professor in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences. “Both the numbers and ages of older people are rising rapidly virtually everywhere, and since aging underlies nearly all major causes of death, disability and degradation of the quality of later life, health care systems are under enormous strain. Hope for enhancement of this trend lies with the development of treatments that enhance and extend health.”

Age causes a decline in the ability of an organism to recover from acute physical challenges or stresses. Dietary, genetic and pharmacological interventions that normally extend life also enhance resistance to, and recovery from, a broad range of stresses or challenges due to age. The grant funds research that will develop a standardized measurement and associated recovery metrics that predict the healthspan impact of assumed health-extending interventions when administered in early to mid-life in mice.

Dietary, genetic and pharmacological interventions that normally extend life also enhance resistance to, and recovery from, a broad range of stresses or challenges due to age.

Investigators will use the grant to develop a panel of quick, simple, inexpensive tests that can be administered to mice in early to mid-life that predict whether an intervention will extend its healthspan, which could be beneficial in clinical trials. One major limitation of aging research is the time it takes to perform a lifespan study.

“In order to speed progress in the field of aging research, it would be invaluable to develop the planned panel of tests,” Austad said. “To help us evaluate whether our test panel is working, we will use sex differences observed in successful mouse longevity interventions to validate how well our resilience panel predicts extended healthspan.”

Three interventions will be used, including dietary restriction, which has proven benefits in both sexes; rapamycin, known to be beneficial in expanding life more for females than males; and 17-α-estradiol, which exhibits longevity benefits in males only.