“The Interdisciplinary Healthy Aging Initiative brings together stakeholders both within the university and outside in an effort to deal with healthspan—we’re not really interested in lifespan per se,” exclaimed Jon Tilly, Northeastern University’s Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Biology at Northeastern University. “We’d all love to live longer. What makes the IHAI effort unique is we want to achieve true healthcare, which is proactive, and not what we’re doing today, sick care, which is reactive.” Tilly recently introduced the first event sponsored by the initiative, a talk featuring three Northeastern researchers and titled “Improving Healthspan: The Science of Healthy Aging,” which took place recently in the Curry Student Center Ballroom.
The event focused on new findings in reproductive biology, the science of human movement, and the neuroscience of superagers. Dori Woods, Assistant Professor of Biology, studies ovarian aging and function in an effort to help ameliorate the many health complications of menopause, including increased risk for cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and depression. “The ovaries are going to fail due to aging,” said Woods. She added, “This will happen to all women given our current technology.” After walking the audience through a primer on ovarian function in mammals, Woods described her research, in which she uses novel technologies to delay or prevent ovarian failure caused by aging or disease.
The technologies break new ground in rejuvenating tissue function. One uses the ovarian stem cells to build the ovarian follicles—the sacs in the ovaries comprising the egg, or oocyte, itself and the cells producing sex hormones such as estrogen. Another involves injecting mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, into poor-quality eggs. During in vitro fertilisation treatment, this translates into transplanting the mitochondria derived from a woman’s pristine, yet-to-develop egg stem cells directly into her older, already formed eggs, in an effort to reverse the aging process.