Aging of the population of the Meuse-Rhine Euroregion – a European cross-border region established in 1976, which comprises 11,000 km2 and has around 3.9 million inhabitants around the city-corridor of Aachen (Germany), Maastricht (The Netherlands), Hasselt and Liège (Belgium) – is becoming a growing problem.
The increase in the number of elderly people in the region has increased the rates of chronic age-related diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and chronic lung, neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases. As a result, healthcare costs have increased, but the quality of life of the population has not necessarily improved.
A group of universities and research institutions from the region formed a consortium called “Healthy Aging” for the purpose of using the knowledge and technologies they produce to identify chronic age-related diseases in the population of the region at an initial stage. Doing this could delay the emergence of the diseases and perhaps, the aging of the immune system.
“The goal of the consortium is to develop strategies that enable early diagnosis and prevention of immune system aging and chronic age related diseases,” Hellings said.
“That way, it would be possible to intervene in a personalized manner in chronic diseases to improve treatment response and develop new and more effective therapies,” he said.
According to the researcher, the emergence of chronic age related diseases is due to the aging of the immune system.
As humans age, their immune systems also become senile – a phenomenon called immunosenescence.
“Immunosenescence affects both innate immunity as well as adaptive immunity. There is a decline in the adaptive immune response,” he said.
Some consequences of immune system are an increased susceptibility to infections, the development of cancer – by virtue of decreased antitumoral immunity – and a reduced response to vaccinations. While the flu vaccine presents a 70% to 90% rate of effectiveness in young adults, that number drops to between 17% and 53% among the elderly, Hellings said by way of comparison.
The researcher pointed out, however, that there are still no biological markers (biomarkers) that can be used as measures to delay immune system aging.
“There is no tool for discriminating between normal and pathological immune system aging, for example, or evidence that immune system aging can be reversed in humans,” he said.
The researchers plan to use the study to develop receptor fusion proteins (RFPs), which capture and inhibit inflammatory cytokines, such as IL-6, involved in inflammatory aging – to guide new and existing biomarkers involved in immune system aging and chronic diseases.
Source : By Elton Alisson, in Brussels (Belgium) | Agência FAPESP