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The Making of Medicine

Targeting ‘Inflammaging’ to Slow Aging

"Inflammaging" is chronic, low-level inflammation that accelerates aging. Our Bimal Desai, PhD, and his team have discovered a key driver of this inflammation, and that could help us slow the clock and may even let us prevent neurodegenerative diseases and other afflictions associated with aging.

Professor Desai and his team found that this chronic inflammation can be triggered by problems with mitochondria in immune cells called macrophages. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells, so their proper functioning is vital. But as we age, these mitochondria can lose their ability to take up and use calcium properly. This leads to problems with calcium signaling -- a critical process for the mitochondria -- and, in turn, to chronic inflammation.

Professor Desai called the discovery "a key conceptual breakthrough in understanding the molecular underpinnings of age-associated inflammation." That new understanding suggests ways we might be to target that inflammation.

Further, he and his collaborators suspect that the mechanism they have discovered will hold true for many other immune cells that, like macrophages, are generated in the bone marrow. That means we may be able to stimulate the proper functioning of those cells as well, potentially boosting our immune systems in old age, when we become more susceptible to disease.

I want to be clear: Fixing inflammaging isn't as simple as taking a calcium supplement, so don't rush out to the pharmacy. The problem isn't lack of calcium; it's the mitochondria's inability to use it properly. So finding a solution to inflammaging will take more research. But this discovery represents an important pointer in the right direction.

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