Valter Longo: Understanding the Biology of Aging

USC Davis School of Gerontology professor Valter Longo has established himself as a world leader in the field of gerontology. His research has provided huge insights into the biological process of aging and the biological basis of numerous age-related disorders.

As the field of medicine boldly and rapidly advances and healthcare systems around the globe continue to grow and improve, mankind becomes an increasingly aged population. Since 1990 the percentage of the world population that is aged 60 and above has risen from 9.2% to 11.7% (1), whilst the average global lifespan has increased by 6 years (2).

This rapid demographic change, whilst marvellous, has come with a side-effect; global mortality is now dramatically skewed towards the elderly (3)(4). As expected, this effect is observed alongside an increase in the proportion of total deaths that are attributed to age-associated disorders (5). In the context of this growing trend, our need to understand the biological processes underpinning aging becomes increasingly important. Valter Longo is currently at the forefront of this on-going quest.

Valter Longo; Biology of Aging: Graphical representation of the percentage distribution of deaths in the UK across age groups. Figure shows that for both males and females in the UK, the percentage of deaths registered to people aged less than 80 years has decreased over the period 1980 to 2010, and consequently increased for those aged 80 and over. This is known as the ageing of mortality and this pattern is observed for all of the UK’s constituent countries. The ageing of mortality is also demonstrated through increasing life expectancy across all UK countries. In 1980, more than half of all male deaths (59 per cent) and just under half of all female deaths (45 per cent) were registered to those aged 60 to 79 years; by 2010 these proportions had fallen to 42 per cent of all male deaths and 29 per cent of all female deaths. In contrast, the proportion of UK deaths registered to those aged 80 years or over has risen from 21 per cent for males and 43 per cent for females in 1980 to 43 per cent and 62 per cent respectively in 2010. This is illustrated by the ageing of mortality discussed above, and is due to increasing numbers of people aged 80 and over as a result of increasing life expectancy. As the UK population continues to age, the percentage of all UK deaths at age 80 and over is also expected to continue increasing. The percentage of deaths registered to the youngest age group in the UK decreased between 1980 and 2000, but has remained stable over the last 10 years. For males and females aged less than 15, the percentage of registered deaths has fallen from 2 per cent of all UK deaths in 1980 to 1 per cent in 2010; this is due to falling death rates for those aged less than 15 in the UK.

Biology of Aging: Graphical representation of the percentage distribution of deaths in the UK across age groups. The data clearly shows that the elderly are accounting for an increasing percentage of total deaths with each passing decade.

Valter Longo; Biology of Aging: Graphical representation of the percentage distribution of deaths in the UK across age groups. Figure shows that for both males and females in the UK, the percentage of deaths registered to people aged less than 80 years has decreased over the period 1980 to 2010, and consequently increased for those aged 80 and over. This is known as the ageing of mortality and this pattern is observed for all of the UK’s constituent countries. The ageing of mortality is also demonstrated through increasing life expectancy across all UK countries. In 1980, more than half of all male deaths (59 per cent) and just under half of all female deaths (45 per cent) were registered to those aged 60 to 79 years; by 2010 these proportions had fallen to 42 per cent of all male deaths and 29 per cent of all female deaths. In contrast, the proportion of UK deaths registered to those aged 80 years or over has risen from 21 per cent for males and 43 per cent for females in 1980 to 43 per cent and 62 per cent respectively in 2010. This is illustrated by the ageing of mortality discussed above, and is due to increasing numbers of people aged 80 and over as a result of increasing life expectancy. As the UK population continues to age, the percentage of all UK deaths at age 80 and over is also expected to continue increasing. The percentage of deaths registered to the youngest age group in the UK decreased between 1980 and 2000, but has remained stable over the last 10 years. For males and females aged less than 15, the percentage of registered deaths has fallen from 2 per cent of all UK deaths in 1980 to 1 per cent in 2010; this is due to falling death rates for those aged less than 15 in the UK.

Biology of Aging: Graphical representation of the percentage distribution of deaths in the UK across age groups. The data clearly shows that the elderly are accounting for an increasing percentage of total deaths with each passing decade.

Valter Longo; Biology of Aging: Graphical representation of the percentage distribution of deaths in the UK across age groups. Figure shows that for both males and females in the UK, the percentage of deaths registered to people aged less than 80 years has decreased over the period 1980 to 2010, and consequently increased for those aged 80 and over. This is known as the ageing of mortality and this pattern is observed for all of the UK’s constituent countries. The ageing of mortality is also demonstrated through increasing life expectancy across all UK countries. In 1980, more than half of all male deaths (59 per cent) and just under half of all female deaths (45 per cent) were registered to those aged 60 to 79 years; by 2010 these proportions had fallen to 42 per cent of all male deaths and 29 per cent of all female deaths. In contrast, the proportion of UK deaths registered to those aged 80 years or over has risen from 21 per cent for males and 43 per cent for females in 1980 to 43 per cent and 62 per cent respectively in 2010. This is illustrated by the ageing of mortality discussed above, and is due to increasing numbers of people aged 80 and over as a result of increasing life expectancy. As the UK population continues to age, the percentage of all UK deaths at age 80 and over is also expected to continue increasing. The percentage of deaths registered to the youngest age group in the UK decreased between 1980 and 2000, but has remained stable over the last 10 years. For males and females aged less than 15, the percentage of registered deaths has fallen from 2 per cent of all UK deaths in 1980 to 1 per cent in 2010; this is due to falling death rates for those aged less than 15 in the UK.

Biology of Aging: Graphical representation of the percentage distribution of deaths in the UK across age groups. The data clearly shows that the elderly are accounting for an increasing percentage of total deaths with each passing decade.

Valter Longo; Biology of Aging: Graphical representation of the percentage distribution of deaths in the UK across age groups. Figure shows that for both males and females in the UK, the percentage of deaths registered to people aged less than 80 years has decreased over the period 1980 to 2010, and consequently increased for those aged 80 and over. This is known as the ageing of mortality and this pattern is observed for all of the UK’s constituent countries. The ageing of mortality is also demonstrated through increasing life expectancy across all UK countries. In 1980, more than half of all male deaths (59 per cent) and just under half of all female deaths (45 per cent) were registered to those aged 60 to 79 years; by 2010 these proportions had fallen to 42 per cent of all male deaths and 29 per cent of all female deaths. In contrast, the proportion of UK deaths registered to those aged 80 years or over has risen from 21 per cent for males and 43 per cent for females in 1980 to 43 per cent and 62 per cent respectively in 2010. This is illustrated by the ageing of mortality discussed above, and is due to increasing numbers of people aged 80 and over as a result of increasing life expectancy. As the UK population continues to age, the percentage of all UK deaths at age 80 and over is also expected to continue increasing. The percentage of deaths registered to the youngest age group in the UK decreased between 1980 and 2000, but has remained stable over the last 10 years. For males and females aged less than 15, the percentage of registered deaths has fallen from 2 per cent of all UK deaths in 1980 to 1 per cent in 2010; this is due to falling death rates for those aged less than 15 in the UK.

Biology of Aging: Graphical representation of the percentage distribution of deaths in the UK across age groups. The data clearly shows that the elderly are accounting for an increasing percentage of total deaths with each passing decade.

Biology of Aging Deciphered

In his research, Valter Longo approaches the problem of aging by tackling age-associated disorders directly. In 2013 for example, Longo served as corresponding author to a study which showed the progression of Alzheimer’s in mice is slowed by a low-protein diet (6).

In the study a low-protein diet was shown to be effective at increasing the cognitive ability of mice suffering from advanced Alzheimer’s. The diet was also shown to reduce the levels of a modified protein – termed “tau” – that is usually found in large amounts in the hippocampus of Alzheimer sufferers.

Longo claims that these observations are due to the effect of dietary restriction on IGF-1, a hormone which provides a link between dietary regulation, aging and disease in both mice and humans.

This IGF-1 mediated link between dietary regulation and age-related disease is a recurring theme throughout Longo’s research. His interest in the link is justified by his wish to make discoveries which can aid “people who have the problem now” as opposed to focusing on drug development, which on average takes “15 years of trials and a billion dollars.” (6)

Valter Longo; Biology of Aging: Steps in drug development. The processes, costs, and time needed for drug development is long and costly. Early steps involve identification of a molecule which may be used for the disease of interest and evaluation of that molecule in animal studies or in vitro. Following these preclinical evaluations, if the data continue to support the potential for the molecule in treating human diseases studies will begin in humans.

Due to drug development being such an incredibly long and costly process, researchers are showing increasing interest in non-pharmaceutical medical interventions.

Valter Longo; Biology of Aging: Steps in drug development. The processes, costs, and time needed for drug development is long and costly. Early steps involve identification of a molecule which may be used for the disease of interest and evaluation of that molecule in animal studies or in vitro. Following these preclinical evaluations, if the data continue to support the potential for the molecule in treating human diseases studies will begin in humans.

Due to drug development being such an incredibly long and costly process, researchers are showing increasing interest in non-pharmaceutical medical interventions.

Valter Longo; Biology of Aging: Steps in drug development. The processes, costs, and time needed for drug development is long and costly. Early steps involve identification of a molecule which may be used for the disease of interest and evaluation of that molecule in animal studies or in vitro. Following these preclinical evaluations, if the data continue to support the potential for the molecule in treating human diseases studies will begin in humans.

Due to drug development being such an incredibly long and costly process, researchers are showing increasing interest in non-pharmaceutical medical interventions.

Valter Longo; Biology of Aging: Steps in drug development. The processes, costs, and time needed for drug development is long and costly. Early steps involve identification of a molecule which may be used for the disease of interest and evaluation of that molecule in animal studies or in vitro. Following these preclinical evaluations, if the data continue to support the potential for the molecule in treating human diseases studies will begin in humans.

Due to drug development being such an incredibly long and costly process, researchers are showing increasing interest in non-pharmaceutical medical interventions.

USC Davis School of Gerontology dean Gerald C. Davison has spoken of his support for this approach to medical science, describing the “noninvasive, nonpharmacological approaches” currently being investigated by Dr. Longo as “particularly exciting.” (6)

In separate studies Longo has shown that the link between dietary restriction and disease also exists in both cancer and diabetes; earlier this year Longo showed that through effects on IGF-1 signalling, dietary restriction is able to protect immune cells from the toxic effects of chemotherapy (7). The same study also showed how dietary restriction was able to stimulate the generation of a new, undamaged immune system in patients experiencing immune-damage as a side-effect of chemotherapy (7).

In 2013 Longo’s contributions to the field of gerontology were officially recognised by the American Federation for Aging Research (AFAR), who awarded him the Vincent Cristofalo “Rising Star” Award. The award was given both in acknowledgement of the hugely influential work already conducted by Longo, and to signify a belief that Longo will continue to impact the field of gerantology in a huge way over the course of his career. In response to Longo’s reception of the award, USC Davis School of Gerontology dean Gerald C. Davison claimed the institution “couldn’t be prouder of Valter and his ever-growing list of accomplishments” (8)

The biochemical process of aging is unarguably one of the most complex and fascinating mysteries left to be solved by modern biology. As the mechanisms behind the process are unveiled, and the relationship between aging and age-related diseases becomes better understood, hope grows that we will soon see dramatic medical advances.

Valter Longo; USC Davis School of Gerontology (Credit: Michelson Medical Research Foundation).

Valter Longo is an American biogerontologist and cell biologist known for his studies on the role of starvation and nutrient response genes on cellular protection aging and diseases and for proposing that longevity is regulated by similar genes and mechanisms in many eukaryotes. He is currently a professor at the USC Davis School of Gerontology with a joint appointment in the department of Biological Sciences as well as serving as the director of the USC Longevity Institute. Photo Credit: Michelson Medical Research Foundation [MMRF].

Valter Longo; USC Davis School of Gerontology (Credit: Michelson Medical Research Foundation).

Valter Longo is an American biogerontologist and cell biologist known for his studies on the role of starvation and nutrient response genes on cellular protection aging and diseases and for proposing that longevity is regulated by similar genes and mechanisms in many eukaryotes. He is currently a professor at the USC Davis School of Gerontology with a joint appointment in the department of Biological Sciences as well as serving as the director of the USC Longevity Institute. Photo Credit: Michelson Medical Research Foundation [MMRF].

Valter Longo; USC Davis School of Gerontology (Credit: Michelson Medical Research Foundation).

Valter Longo is an American biogerontologist and cell biologist known for his studies on the role of starvation and nutrient response genes on cellular protection aging and diseases and for proposing that longevity is regulated by similar genes and mechanisms in many eukaryotes. He is currently a professor at the USC Davis School of Gerontology with a joint appointment in the department of Biological Sciences as well as serving as the director of the USC Longevity Institute. Photo Credit: Michelson Medical Research Foundation [MMRF].

Valter Longo; USC Davis School of Gerontology (Credit: Michelson Medical Research Foundation).

Valter Longo is an American biogerontologist and cell biologist known for his studies on the role of starvation and nutrient response genes on cellular protection aging and diseases and for proposing that longevity is regulated by similar genes and mechanisms in many eukaryotes. He is currently a professor at the USC Davis School of Gerontology with a joint appointment in the department of Biological Sciences as well as serving as the director of the USC Longevity Institute. Photo Credit: Michelson Medical Research Foundation [MMRF].

Dr. Valter Longo – Longevity and Cancer
[2014-09-24; Institute of Molecular Oncology, Italy] [YouTube]

“Eat, Fast and Live Longer” feat. Dr. Valter Longo.
[2012-08-06; BBC2 Horizon]

Dr. Valter Longo – Longevity and Cancer
[2014-09-24; Institute of Molecular Oncology, Italy] [YouTube]

“Eat, Fast and Live Longer” feat. Dr. Valter Longo.
[2012-08-06; BBC2 Horizon]

Dr. Valter Longo – Longevity and Cancer
[2014-09-24; Institute of Molecular Oncology, Italy] [YouTube]

“Eat, Fast and Live Longer” feat. Dr. Valter Longo.
[2012-08-06; BBC2 Horizon]

Dr. Valter Longo
Longevity and Cancer
[2014-09-24; Institute of Molecular Oncology, Italy] [YouTube]

“Eat, Fast and Live Longer”
feat. Dr. Valter Longo.
[2012-08-06; BBC2 Horizon]

References

  1. World Population Ageing 2013 [United Nations]
  2. Global Health Observatory (GHO): Life expectancy [World Health Organization]
  3. Percentage distribution of all deaths by age group for selected years, UK [Mortality in the United Kingdom, 2010; Office for National Statistics]
  4. World Mortality Report 2011 [United Nations]
  5. Changes to Trends in Disease-Related Deaths [2012-11-07; Bazian, Economist Intelligence Unit, National Health Service]
  6. Low-protein diet slows Alzheimer’s in mice [2013-02-19; Robert Perkins, USC News]
  7. Fasting triggers stem cell regeneration of damaged, old immune system [2014-06-05; Suzanne Wu, USC News]
  8. Valter Longo wins ‘Rising Star’ award [2012-05-04; Jonathan Riggs, USC News]

Image Sources

Related Links

Christopher Edward Jones is a biochemist and writer currently affiliated with Queen Mary University of London, where he is part of a research group focusing on the restriction factors of HIV. In the past he has worked with multiple biomedical research groups in both industry and academia. He has a research interest in the biochemical mechanisms of virus restriction and a general interest in all areas of science.

Christopher Edward Jones is a biochemist and writer currently affiliated with Queen Mary University of London, where he is part of a research group focusing on the restriction factors of HIV. In the past he has worked with multiple biomedical research groups in both industry and academia. He has a research interest in the biochemical mechanisms of virus restriction and a general interest in all areas of science.

Christopher Edward Jones is a biochemist and writer currently affiliated with Queen Mary University of London, where he is part of a research group focusing on the restriction factors of HIV. In the past he has worked with multiple biomedical research groups in both industry and academia. He has a research interest in the biochemical mechanisms of virus restriction and a general interest in all areas of science.

Christopher Edward Jones is a biochemist and writer currently affiliated with Queen Mary University of London, where he is part of a research group focusing on the restriction factors of HIV. In the past he has worked with multiple biomedical research groups in both industry and academia. He has a research interest in the biochemical mechanisms of virus restriction and a general interest in all areas of science.

The Michelson Medical Research Foundation is a proud supporter of the University of Southern California and the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience thanks to the generous support of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson.

The Michelson Medical Research Foundation is a proud supporter of the University of Southern California and the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience thanks to the generous support of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson.

The Michelson Medical Research Foundation is a proud supporter of the University of Southern California and the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience thanks to the generous support of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson.

The Michelson Medical Research Foundation is a proud supporter of the University of Southern California and the USC Michelson Center for Convergent Bioscience thanks to the generous support of Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson.