Research to extend healthy lifespan

Rose Anne Kenny, Professor of Medical Gerontology at Trinity College Dublin, Founding Principal Investigator of TILDA, and author of Age Proof, will speak at the Institute of Medicine Summer Symposium on Friday 17 June. We caught up with Professor Kenny to discuss prevention measures to support long healthy life.

Can you tell me a little about your work?

My research investigates the factors which contribute to and accelerate ageing to inform a better understanding of the process of ageing and of timely preventative interventions.  I am lead investigator of Ireland’s largest adult population study on the experience of ageing in Ireland, The Irish LongituDinal Study of Ageing (TILDA). My work in cardiovascular and mobility disorders of ageing has promoted the incorporation of traditional and novel tests of locomotion, autonomic function, and cardiovascular and cognitive health into TILDA, coupled with traditional measures of health care utilising economics and social medicine.

I am part of a number of international working groups for geriatrics, cardiology and neurology, working with experts to advance our understanding and practice in the field. I am also committed to advancing public knowledge and I’ve just published my first book for a general audience, Age Proof. Much of my time remains in the clinical research setting. I am Director of Mercer’s Institute for Successful Ageing (MISA) at St. James’s Hospital Dublin and Director of a large Falls & Syncope facility at MISA. 

Professor Rose Anne Kenny

The theme of the Summer Symposium is prevention in healthcare. Can you tell us a little about how your work is advancing prevention in the field of aged care?

Average life expectancy is increasing by 2.2 years every ten years. This is remarkable and appears to be continuing in a linear trajectory. Globally, over 700 million people are aged over 65. In just over ten years, this is projected to rise to 1 billion. That means 12 per cent of the world’s population will be over 65. In some countries that figure is larger, such as Germany at 22 per cent, or Japan at 26 per cent. Ageing is a major issue.

Our challenge is how to prevent chronic diseases, or at least compress morbidity and comorbidity at the end of life. To do this we must continue to learn more about the processes of ageing at a cellular level. This means understanding chronic diseases such as lung disease, neurological disorders, cardiovascular disorders, metabolic syndrome and other chronic illnesses.

Further, understanding the mechanisms that contribute to accelerated ageing will inform ways to better prevent chronic diseases and therefore how to manage lifestyle to extend a healthy lifespan, thus developing new interventions for ageing. More and more biological measures for the ageing process are evolving which will inform prevention

TILDA has been studying repeatedly almost 9000 adults over the age of 50 for 12 years and we are currently replenishing the sample. The study has informed biological measures of ageing and their association with chronic disease, early mortality and physiological parameters.

Looking forward what are the key challenges?

The earlier we start the better, but it is important to remember that it is never too late. Genes are responsible for 20 per cent of lifespan, but environmental factors driver 80% of the biological factors which determine accelerated ageing. Modifiable factors such as exercise, diet, metabolic syndrome, stress relief, positive attitude, relationships, and purpose can all influence lifespan through changes, for example, cellular senescence, telomeres, proteomics and metabolomics.

The environmental factors influence inflammatory processes and thereby affect ROS, P13K, mTOR, Autophagy and Sirtuins. We can influence those factors through antioxidants, caloric restriction, SHIP1 activators, Rapamycin, Metformin, Resveratrol, and other pathways.

I will discuss innovative pathways and potential new interventions for healthy ageing.