1. Cell Biology
  2. Medicine
Download icon

Research: A new era for research into aging

  1. Matt Kaeberlein  Is a corresponding author
  2. Jessica K Tyler  Is a corresponding author
  1. Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, University of Washington, United States
  2. Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine, United States
  • Cited 0
  • Views 3,006
  • Annotations
Cite this article as: eLife 2021;10:e65286 doi: 10.7554/eLife.65286


eLife is publishing a special issue on aging, geroscience and longevity to mark the rapid progress made in this field over the past decade, both in terms of mechanistic understanding and translational approaches that are poised to have clinical impact on age-related diseases.

Main text

Every major cause of death and disability in the developed world shares a greatest risk factor, and it is probably not what most people would think. Smoking, obesity, a sedentary lifestyle and drinking too much alcohol all contribute to disease: however, their contributions are small in comparison to the physiological changes that result from aging. Whether biological aging causes the many functional declines that occur with age, or just permits them, is perhaps open for debate, but there is no question that, for most of us, biological aging determines how and when we and our loved ones will get sick and die.

This connection between aging and disease has become particularly consequential during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the vast majority of severe cases and deaths occurring among the elderly. Given this obvious relationship, it is somewhat surprising how slowly the biomedical research community has come to appreciate the importance of biological aging in many of the disease processes under study. It is our hope that the articles in the eLife special issue on aging, geroscience and longevity will contribute to a greater appreciation and understanding of aging biology among the broader scientific community. A number of the authors of these articles also spoke at a recent eLife symposium on this topic.

Today, unfortunately, too many scientists study individual diseases without recognizing the impact of aging biology. It is still common, for example, to see research studies in cancer, neuroscience, metabolism and other fields where young animal models (such as 4–6 month old mice) are used to study disease processes that almost exclusively occur in old people. ‘Mice are not people’ is a standard refrain when explaining why so many preclinical therapies fail in human trials. Perhaps the mouse isn’t the problem. Failing to account for the physiological changes that occur during aging, both in mice and in people, may be a much bigger reason why so much preclinical research fails to translate to the clinic.

It is still common to see research studies in cancer, neuroscience, metabolism and other fields where young animal models are used to study disease processes that almost exclusively occur in old people.

Thinking about certain conserved molecular mechanisms as 'hallmarks' or 'pillars' of aging (Kennedy et al., 2014; López-Otín et al., 2013) has benefitted researchers within the field, and has also allowed scientists outside the field to begin to recognize how aging biology impacts on their own research. Many of these conserved mechanisms are studied in the papers in this special issue, including telomere attrition, mitochondrial dysfunction, cellular senescence, epigenetic alterations, stem cell exhaustion, genomic instability, and loss of proteostasis.

Another important advance in aging research has been the development of a concept called geroscience: researchers in this area seek to understand mechanistically how the hallmarks of aging cause age-related disease and functional decline (Sierra and Kohanski, 2017). The growth of the geroscience concept also reflects a recognition that aging research is much closer to clinical application than it was twenty years ago. Numerous interventions have been developed that target one or more of the hallmarks of aging in order to delay, or even reverse, age-related functional declines. In rodents, for example, it has been shown that the drug rapamycin can prevent age-related diseases and improve function in multiple aged tissues and organs. Now, in the eLife special issue on aging, An et al. report that rapamycin also works in the oral cavity and can reverse periodontal disease in mice (An et al., 2020). Other articles suggest translational strategies to target specific hallmarks of aging for intervertebral disc degeneration (Cherif et al., 2020) and age-related heart disease (Chiao et al., 2020). At the time of writing there are two review articles and more than 20 research articles in the special issue, and more will be added over time.

The future of aging research is brighter than ever before, and the pace of discovery is only increasing. We look forward to major breakthroughs over the next few years that will revolutionize the way we think about aging biology and have the potential to significantly impact human healthspan and longevity.


Article and author information

Author details

  1. Matt Kaeberlein

    Matt Kaeberlein is an eLife Senior Editor and is in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, University of Washington, Seattle, United States

    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-1311-3421
  2. Jessica K Tyler

    Jessica K Tyler is an eLife Senior Editor and is in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, United States

    For correspondence
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0001-9765-1659

Publication history

  1. Version of Record published: January 28, 2021 (version 1)


© 2021, Kaeberlein and Tyler

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.


  • 3,006
    Page views
  • 180
  • 0

Article citation count generated by polling the highest count across the following sources: Crossref, PubMed Central, Scopus.

Download links

A two-part list of links to download the article, or parts of the article, in various formats.

Downloads (link to download the article as PDF)

Download citations (links to download the citations from this article in formats compatible with various reference manager tools)

Open citations (links to open the citations from this article in various online reference manager services)

Further reading

    1. Cancer Biology
    2. Cell Biology
    Kerrie-Ann McMahon et al.
    Research Article

    Caveolae-associated protein 3 (cavin3) is inactivated in most cancers. We characterized how cavin3 affects the cellular proteome using genome-edited cells together with label-free quantitative proteomics. These studies revealed a prominent role for cavin3 in DNA repair, with BRCA1 and BRCA1 A-complex components being downregulated on cavin3 deletion. Cellular and cell-free expression assays revealed a direct interaction between BRCA1 and cavin3 that occurs when cavin3 is released from caveolae that are disassembled in response to UV and mechanical stress. Overexpression and RNAi-depletion revealed that cavin3 sensitized various cancer cells to UV-induced apoptosis. Supporting a role in DNA repair, cavin3-deficient cells were sensitive to PARP inhibition, where concomitant depletion of 53BP1 restored BRCA1-dependent sensitivity to PARP inhibition. We conclude that cavin3 functions together with BRCA1 in multiple cancer-related pathways. The loss of cavin3 function may provide tumor cell survival by attenuating apoptotic sensitivity and hindering DNA repair under chronic stress conditions.

    1. Cell Biology
    2. Neuroscience
    Haining Zhong et al.
    Tools and Resources Updated

    Precise and efficient insertion of large DNA fragments into somatic cells using gene editing technologies to label or modify endogenous proteins remains challenging. Non-specific insertions/deletions (INDELs) resulting from the non-homologous end joining pathway make the process error-prone. Further, the insert is not readily removable. Here, we describe a method called CRISPR-mediated insertion of exon (CRISPIE) that can precisely and reversibly label endogenous proteins using CRISPR/Cas9-based editing. CRISPIE inserts a designer donor module, which consists of an exon encoding the protein sequence flanked by intron sequences, into an intronic location in the target gene. INDELs at the insertion junction will be spliced out, leaving mRNAs nearly error-free. We used CRISPIE to fluorescently label endogenous proteins in mammalian neurons in vivo with previously unachieved efficiency. We demonstrate that this method is broadly applicable, and that the insert can be readily removed later. CRISPIE permits protein sequence insertion with high fidelity, efficiency, and flexibility.