Research

The good news upfront: We are growing older. For more than 150 years life expectancy in affluent nations has been rising by 3 years per decade. Although a certain plateau effect can currently be observed, we can assume that the majority children born in Germany in today, will reach 90.
 

Bevölkerungsprognose DL

Source: Datenreport 2013 - Ein Sozialbericht für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland; Publisher: Statistisches Bundesamt (Destatis)
Animated version: www.destatis.de/bevoelkerungspyramide/


This principally positive development leads to fundamental changes in our population structure. Although we understand the mechanisms scientifically and each individually knows his or her high life expectancy, neither the personal nor the societal implications of this development have reached our society’s consciousness and are not nearly understood well enough. This societal challenge requires a solution that impacts personal behavior. Currently, an aging society is linked with negative effects on the health system, the pension fund, urban management and our society in general. Altogether, this largely positive development causes insecurities and negative attitudes because only inadequate models to deal effectively with this imminent change exist. Improving health and creating aging-appropriate living space can enable increased integration of older people into society, from which all involved parties will profit through social interaction and the exchange of experience.


The Aging Research Center Jena (ARC) has set itself the goal to link partners from different research areas to identify together the biological causes of aging, to develop new approaches to prevention and therapy, to explore the effects of demographic change and develop strategies that allow societies to deal with the resulting societal shifts in a way that ameliorates negative effects and takes advantage of positive opportunities.

show Content Research Areas

The question which implications healthy aging has or respectively, how to age healthy, is not only to be considered from a biomedical perspective. Answers to the multifaceted challenges arising from an aging populations, will be sought on several levels:

 

show Content Molecular Causes of Aging

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Image: Leibniz Institute for Age Research - Fritz Lipmann Institute

 

Adult stem cells contribute fundamentally to the daily renewal and regeneration of organs and tissue. However, as we get older, stem cells start to lose their function. This is illustrated by clinical observations: Patients suffering from leukemia experience problems with the formation of new blood cells if stem cells in bone marrow transplants are derived from older donors. Experiments in mice also demonstrated that adult stem cell function in different mouse organs and tissue diminishes as a function of age. Affected are hematopoietic stem cells, as well as neuronal, liver and skin stem cells. An age-dependent decrease in stem cells function can lead to an increased susceptibility for infections.

 

The immune system is also tasked with the removal of old and damaged cells from the body. As this ability decreases, the aging process accelerates. It also increases the development of cancer. Malignant tumors generally arise from cells that have accumulated several genetic alterations (mutations.) Ultimately, this leads to uncontrolled cell division and the destruction of organ systems. Stem cells carry a particularly high risk of accumulating mutations since they are longest-living cells in actively dividing organs. Interestingly, mutations that accumulate in stem cells are the same mutations that occur in malignant tumors.

 

In the future, it could become feasible to detect dangerous mutations in stem cells before cancer develops; targeted therapies could be used to remove impaired stem cells. Such approaches could revolutionize cancer therapy. Taken together, the latest scientific insights point to age-dependent changes in adult stem cells as a major contributor to the loss of function of organs and tissues as well as the development of cancer.

 

Understanding the molecular mechanisms of stem cells aging is one of most important goals of the research focus “Identification of molecular causes of aging and the development of aging-associated diseases.” This knowledge will provide a basis to develop medical therapies, which will help to improve health and reduce cancer risk in old age.

 

show Content New Approaches to Prevention and Therapy

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Image: Jena University Hospital

 

The increasing percentage of older people within the population leads to qualitative and quantitative changes in health requirements. The increase in the average age causes an increased prevalence of diseases and functional limitations, e.g. neurodegeneration, kidney failure or the development of tumors.  Despite intense research, for most of these diseases no medications are available that cure these conditions. Therapies or at least the amelioration of associated symptoms, particularly in regard to senior care, are a future problem of significant macroeconomic relevance.

 

Simultaneously, the symptomatology of  diseases changes compared to the same disease in middle age: the disease course is prolonged and recovery is delayed. Chronic illnesses are more frequent and progressively worsen.  An additional factor is the so-called multi-morbidity, the fact that older patients often suffer from confounding illnesses on top of the underlying disease. This fact impedes the correct diagnosis and treatment of the underlying disease.

 

 

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Image: Anna Schroll / Jena University Hospital

 

Taken together, there is an urgent need to improve health care of older patients. The goals are for one a catalogue of therapeutic measures, which ameliorate the negative consequences of the aging process; and for another, the development of safe and efficacious drugs, which can be used for the prevention and causative treatment of age-associated diseases and functional impairments and are specifically tailored to the physical constitution of older people.

 

As part of the focus “Development of new therapies and medical innovation to prevent, diagnose and treat aging-associated dysfunctions and illnesses” a close collaboration with the future CGCJ (Comprehensive Gerontology Center Jena) will be developed. In addition, structures will be developed to accelerate the translation of basic research findings into treatment concepts and to test them in clinical studies to determine efficacy.

show Content Aging in Place

altersgerecht wohnen

Image: Rainer Sturm  / pixelio.de

 

In the year 2020 almost 30 % of the total population of Germany will be 65 years or older and shape demand on the housing market by more than a quarter with their specific requirements. But age-sensitive living environs shouldn’t be confused with assisted-living arrangements. In the future, the clearly growing group of older, active people will request other, versatile living and occupational models. Therefore, it is time to have a serious discussion about the complex needs of an aging society and view individual approaches as part of a master concept, which also considers the needs of young and middle aged members of society.

 

At the moment, the majority of apartments is neither age-appropriate nor set-up for an age-appropriate remodel. The decreased social interaction of older people leads to loneliness and reduced cognitive abilities and thus to a substantial impairment of objective and subjective health. For the vision of a long, self-determined, mature, healthy and active life style in a “generation-sensible” context are several measures of importance: accommodation or living environment, respectively; apartment; building elements and product dimension including technical systems and environments.

 

The research focus “Conception and realization of architectural and technical solution for age-appropriate living” will develop conceptual solutions and realize them in the architectural dimension.

show Content Demographic Change

 demographic chance

Image: Uschi Dreiucker  / pixelio.de

 

Whether, when and how somebody ages, depends—in addition to biomedical aspects—on psychological and social parameters as well as personal and environmental factors. While it is clear, that the highly developed, late industrial societies will age in the coming decades, it is still uncertain which individual and societal implications the inescapable future of aging will have and how long aging people will be able to actively participate in and shape society.

 

Therefore, people have to be actively encouraged to invest into preventive measures and programs themselves. This economically important question critically depends on available health-related models; adequate knowledge about preventive measures for age-associated maladies; the individual assessment of the aging process and the perception of the available freedom of action and room to maneuver.

 demographic chance

Image: berggeist007  / pixelio.de


Health-related behavior and preventive measures for healthy aging always orient themselves on expectations (age-dependent changes, control, self-efficacy) and assessments. In many cases, the anticipation links positive and negative aspects. Typical questions are: How can I influence the development of my disease through my behavior? Are functional impairments and disease an unavoidable by-product of the aging process? Does it pay to invest current resources (time, money, effort) into a healthy life in old age and forgo immediate gratification? Or is life in old age not valuable since, as an old person, one is lonely, marginalized and excluded from social life?

 

Such notions and attitudes toward old age in general, and personal aging in particular, are the determining factor for the willingness to engage in preventive health care (or not to engage, respectively) and to invest personal resources in a healthy life in old age.

 

Within the framework of the research focus “Exploration of the individual and societal requirements to shape demographic change” the influence of the perceived time budget and time sovereignty on preventive health and health-related actions by older or aging people will be explored.

show Content Projects

show Content ProExcellence Initiative

Aging-induced  impairments in organ regeneration and homeostasis (Acronym: RegenerAging) 

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Image: Consequences of DNA damage on clonal selection in tissue stem cells during ageing.
Nat Cell Biol. 2014 Mar;16(3):201-7. doi: 10.1038/ncb2928.

 

Facilitated by the association the research project "RegenerAging" was developed by the members of the Aging Research Center Jena (ARC). It is a close cooperation between the Leibniz Institute for Age Research – Fritz Lipmann Institute e.V. (FLI), the University Hospital Jena (UKJ) and Faculties of Medicine, Biology/Pharmacy and Mathematic/Computer Sciences of the Friedrich Schiller University Jena as well as the microscope developers of ZEISS Jena. The project is funded within the "ProExzellenz Initiative 2" of the State of Thuringia from 2015-19 with 3.9 million euros.

Clinical data and experimental studies show that aging leads to impairments in regeneration and tissue homeostasis. Molecular mechanisms that cause aging induced impairments in the functionality of stem cells and differentiated organ cells in regeneration and homeostasis remain currently not well understood. There is increasing evidence that alterations in signals controlling the regenerative capacity of differentiated cells but also the self-renewal and functionality of stem cells (e.g. Notch, Wnt, and CEBP-alpha signaling) contribute to aging associated defects in regeneration and tissue homeostasis. Aging associated accumulation of molecular damages represents another mechanism contributing to impairments of stem cells and differentiated cells in regeneration and tissue homeostasis. A variety of surveillance systems and checkpoints have evolved to counteract the accumulation of molecular damages (such as senescence, apoptosis, and autophagy), but it remains largely unknown, why these systems fail during aging. In addition to these cell intrinsic defects, there is experimental evidence that aging provokes alterations in the cell environment. That leads to impairments in cellular functions during regeneration and organ homeostasis including impairments of immune functions, the aberrant regulation of pro-inflammatory signals, the induction of epigenetic alterations, and the clonal selection of stem cells.
Together, imbalances in signaling pathways that control the functionality of stem cells and differentiated cells in regeneration, and tissue homeostasis vs. the activation of checkpoints and surveillance pathways that negate the accumulation of moleculardamages, influence the rate of tissue aging by impairing regeneration and organ homeostasis. The functional analysis of the underlying molecular mechanisms of these aging associated impairments is the main focus within the “ProExzellenz Initiative” which is funded by the State of Thuringia.

The research focuses on the following areas:

- Epigenetics of Aging
- Stem Cell Aging
- Immunology of Aging


RegenerAging will be instrumental to strengthen the research focus in key areas and key technologies to complement the existing expertise on aging research at the university campus in Jena. Specifically, we will focus on 3 funding lines:

- Recruitments of 3 “Tenure track groups”,
- Financing of 6 Ph.D. projects, and
- Development of a high-resolution microscopy