For this edition of the Healthspan Campaign Expert Q & A, we talk with Steven N. Austad, Ph.D., distinguished professor and chair of the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Biology, and scientific director for the American Federation for Aging Research, about his world travels, his work in the lab, and his participation in this month’s National Geographic Channel special on aging.
When the Buck Institute for Research on Aging opened in 1999 in Novato, Calif.,
“biogerontology” was a little-known subset of of gerontology. It looked completely different than it does today.
“At the time the Buck started, there was nothing like it,” says Brian Kennedy, Ph.D., its president & CEO. “It was a difficult battle trying to get aging research noticed.”
But then aging researchers at the Buck and elsewhere began to solve the mysteries of why our bodies age.
“It used to be that aging was considered a fixed process. But then in the mid-90s we started finding genetic mutations that extended lifespan,” says Kennedy. “That was an important step. It was possible to modify aging.”
Over the next 20 years, more discoveries were made, spurred in large part by the sequencing of the human genome in 2003.
Fast forward to 2015. Biogerontology has morphed into geroscience – a discipline that has moved into the mainstream of science and is even mentioned on Capitol Hill. Researchers working in the trenches have begun to figure out why our bodies get older. And they are really focused on aging as the common cause of a panoply of chronic conditions, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, arthritis, and cardiovascular disease, among others.