Science Spyglass

Navigating the dualism of the aging and disease landscape with the pertinent tools

An interview with Fernanda Ricci, High Content Screening Unit Manager at Axxam.

Don’t miss her upcoming webinar:

Read Fernanda’s opinions on the subject of early drug discovery for diseases related to aging:

Q. Why do you consider a webinar on aging important?

In an era where life expectancy is increasing, the quest to understand aging and promote healthier, longer lives has become more critical than ever. Aging is a complex and multifaceted process that leaves its mark at the molecular, cellular, and systemic levels for all of us, increasing our risk of diseases and disability, and placing demands on health and social care services.

However, recent scientific breakthroughs are shedding light on new approaches to unravel the mysteries of aging, such us metabolic regulators, mitochondrial functionality, inflammation pathways.

What is truly exciting today is that these discoveries might pave the way for a future where aging is not just a process but a target for intervention; for a future where we may replace the word “aging” with “longevity.”

Certainly, we are all committed to reaching a healthier state as much and as fast as possible. The road is still long, with many issues to solve, but starting with the right methods we can speed up the discovery process. For this reason, we are working to establish biological assays relevant to understanding the fundamental processes of aging.

Fernanda Ricci, Axxam High Content Screening Unit Manager
Fernanda Ricci, Axxam High Content Screening Unit Manager

Q. What tools are you developing to study aging in the laboratory?

We are operating on multiple fronts. Aging processes involve several significant molecular pathways, and our commitment extends to miniaturizing all the assays, enabling high-throughput drug screening campaigns to increase the likelihood of finding the right hits for the specific phenotype. Few examples of relevant cell-based assays include DNA damage, mitochondrial dysfunction, autophagy rate readouts, inflammation-based readouts.

Q. What are the major relevant pathways or targets involved in aging progression?

A real game-changer is certainly inflammation. Chronic inflammation is the troublemaker here, creating the basis for systemic dysfunction that can lead to issues ranging from cancer to heart problems.

Some effects at the molecular and cellular levels, for example, involve the mislocalization of transcription factors, consequently altering the genetic script, or a decrease in the stem cell pool despite an increase in senescent cells, and in turn these cells release inflammatory cytokines, adding fuel to the systemic inflammation storm.

Remarkably, our vital organelles such as lysosomes and mitochondria get damaged, and they are no longer able to perform their functions, such as clearing cellular toxic products, producing energy, and removing oxidative species. The “Free Radical Theory” of aging comes into play, increasing the probability of protein crosslinking, DNA damage, and a shuffle in gene expression, all contributing to the onset of metabolic and neurodegenerative disorders, as well as cancer in the long term.

However, research is progressing rapidly, much like the aging process itself. Several targets, pathways, and phenotypes involved in aging have already been discovered that can be of therapeutic interest and can be addressed selecting the right tools and assays.

Today, life science is approaching aging as a Pandora’s box; by treating aging, the incidence of other diseases can also be reduced, achieving a good and longer healthy old age. Aging is inevitable, but how we age could be our decision in the near future.

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