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Symposium Tackles Question of How to Extend Human 'Healthspan'

By Eric Sauter

Dozens of scientists from around the country came to Jupiter, Florida, to take part in the first Scripps Florida Spring Workshop on Biology and Aging, a four-day event devoted to figuring out what might be the best therapeutic approaches to extend human “healthspan” over the next decade.

“The symposium has been an unqualified success,” said Paul Robbins, a TRSI professor and an organizer of the event with TSRI Associate Professor Laura Niedernhofer and Chair of the TSRI Department of Metabolism and Aging Roy Smith. “From the high caliber of the scientists to the quality of their presentations, I don’t think we could have asked for anything better. It really is a remarkable commentary on the growing interest in aging research and a good sign that we’re moving in the right direction to develop drugs able to extend human healthspan.”

Opening night began with a reception in the Scripps Florida Café (aka the cafeteria) and continued with three brief lectures from some leading figures in the field: Steven Austad of the University of Alabama; James Kirkland of the Mayo Clinic and, finally, Ron Kohanski from the National Institute on Aging (NIA), who quipped that while the first two speakers were there to talk about science, he was there because “I have the money.”

Among the more interesting points made during the opening lectures was the fact that, according to Austad, life expectancy in the United States has been increasing by six and a half hours every day since 1900. And, in a colorfully graphic slide, Kirkland pointed out that by 2050, one in five people in the world’s northern hemisphere—including China—will be over 60 years of age.

The importance of the symposium was recognized by Bill Nelson, Florida’s senior senator, who took to the floor of the U.S. Senate to recognize the Scripps Florida meeting, noting that it coincides with Older Americans Month. “As chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, I am aware of the daily challenges faced by many older Americans,” he said. “I believe these opportunities to bring our nation’s best scientists, physicians, and researchers together are essential if we are going to conquer aging-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. As such, we must continue to support research that drives innovation, advances current knowledge, and encourages collaboration among our nation’s greatest thinkers.”

The meeting was sponsored by NuVista Living.

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Researchers from around the country gathered to exchange ideas at a new workshop at Scripps Florida. Here, Roy Smith (center), chair of the Department of Metabolism and Aging, participates in a panel. (Photo by Eric Sauter.)