Health and Aging Research

„Giving life to years, not years to life“ – a popular quote, at which researchers from Rostock (Germany) have now taken a very close look. Their aim was to formulate general definitions
of terms from health and aging research, in order to resolve the current conceptual confusion in the field. First results have now been published in the highly cited journal „Aging and Disease“. These results will make it easier to connect health research data from different sources and render these comparable.

Dr. Georg Fuellen, head of the Institute of Biostatistics and Informatics in Medicine and Aging Research of the Rostock University Medical Center and Dr. Ludger Jansen from the Institute for Philosophy of the University of Rostock teamed up with international co-authors to clarify terms like „health“, „biological age“ and „biomarker of aging“. „Currently there is a huge conceptual confusion in Aging Research“, says Professor Fuellen: Studies develop their own concepts and operationalisation, which makes it difficult to compare and aggregate from different studies. Moreover, a lot of studies work with model organisms like mice or roundworms. It is easy to imagine that health spells out in quite different terms for mice, worms, and humans. „We provide a universal and simple framework,“ says Fuellen, „applicable to most species“.

Three terms are at the core of the new framework: wellbeing, aging and biological age. „Individuals have their own optimal balance between health and longevity, which we call wellbeing,“ Dr. Jansen explains, „and we define aging as all processes that reduce future wellbeing.“ Finally, the team defined biological age as the best composite predictor of future wellbeing – something like the super-diagnostic of aging research.

The new terminology meets important desiderata. It provides generic, simple and threshold-free definitions, together with a hierarchical set of features to enable an operational definition of health for human and model organisms, especially for mice and roundworms. The new framework of definitions combines both objective and subjective aspects, and allows choice regarding the reference population data. The framework is based on the WHO classifications of disease (ICD) and of the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF).

The study originated in the EU-funded project „Aging with Elegans“ that focuses in particular on aging data from the worm species C. elegans. Researchers from this project will also apply the new terminology in their comparative studies.

contact for scientific information:
Professor Georg Füllen
Institute for Biostatistics and Informatics in Medicine and Ageing Research
Rostock University Medical Center, University of Rostock
Phone: + 49 381 494-7360

PD Dr. Ludger Jansen
Department of Philosophy
University of Rostock

original publication:

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