Trojans of all scientific stripes shone at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology’s fourth annual interdisciplinary symposium, “What’s Hot in Aging Research at USC.”
Organized by USC Leonard Davis assistant professor Sean Curran and associate dean Maria Henke, the conference was held on Monday, April 22 under the subtitle “Integrated Approaches to the Study of Aging.”
“I’m so delighted to see such an incredible turnout to this event. There’s so much exciting new work being done at our School and at USC,” said Davis School dean Pinchas Cohen. “Aging is at the forefront of what we think about as a society; it’s where our resources are being channeled; it is the lens through which we see the challenges and opportunities of the future.”
Curran chaired the first session, entitled “Nutrition, Metabolism, Aging,” which examined the biology and genetics behind longevity. Fielding questions about growth hormone injections, organic food and the role of the mitochondria in cellular aging, USC Leonard Davis Valter Longo and David Lee as well as Biological Science’s John Tower provided the scientific basis for the day’s remaining programs.
The second session, “The Future of Aging,” contained speakers from the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, chaired by Susan Enguídanos, who began the panel with a discussion of end-of-life care trends, transitions and trepidations. Next up was Elizabeth Zelinski, who discussed the brain’s changing cognition with age after describing the Flynn Effect, which shows steady generational improvements for 18-year-olds in their ability to do well on IQ tests.
“So, like you’ve always thought, you are indeed smarter than your parents,” she joked. “Like your kids think…they’re probably smarter than you.”
The panel closed with Tara Gruenewald discussing the role of generativity—or the care, concern and cultivation directed towards younger generations—in helping people age with greater reports of happiness and health.
Before breaking for lunch, Cohen surprised everyone by presenting the Dean’s Medallion to attendee Mike Yamano, chancellor of Tokyo’s Yamano College.
“This is the greatest honor we can give to our partners and supporters and I am honored to recognize the distinguished career and contributions of Mike Yamano. A true gerontology ambassador, he has helped revolutionize the field with his innovative recognition of the link between aging and aesthetics,” Cohen said. “To quote Mike’s lifelong friend and the head of the USC Leonard Davis School Board of Councilors, Dr. Richard King, ‘Mike is a visionary, an entrepreneur and, most of all, a person with a fine spirit. I am so proud to have him and Yamano College associated with the USC Leonard Davis School.’”
“Dr. Cohen, USC and attendees: I am so honored. Thank you—this is indeed a surprise,” Yamano said. “I have been surprised many times in my 77 years, but the best and most beautiful surprise is to see so many wonderful people studying gerontology.”
After a lunchtime networking session, the USC Leonard Davis School’s Caleb Finch discussed his recent “mummy study” of atherosclerosis. He also chaired the third session, “The Aging Brain,” which included his Davis colleague Mara Mather discussing the positivity effect of older adults’ cognition as well as Dion Dickman from Neuroscience covering homeostasis and plasticity.
The final session, “Emerging Scholars,” was moderated by Curran, who gave USC Leonard Davis School postdoctoral researchers and doctoral students an opportunity to present their work. Mafalda Cacciottolo discussed APOE isoforms, Jeff Laguna discussed a pain management smartphone app and Morgan Levine discussed her study on the unique health resilience of long-lived smokers. As the conference wrapped up, Jennifer Ailshire presented her study on air pollution and the aging body and brain, which was particularly of interest to Southern Californians.
“LA has the highest level of fine particulates in the country. We’re all a vulnerable population. There’s a daily growing body of evidence showing the harmful effects of particulate air pollution, including respiratory and cardiovascular damage and compromised brain health and development,” Ailshire said. “The good news is that this is all preventable. We can all do something about air pollution. We all deserve to breathe clean air, regardless of where we live.”
Once more, “What’s Hot in Aging Research” helped to enlighten and empower attendees not only to appreciate the amazing aging-related work being done across USC’s campus, but to also reaffirm their commitment to their own.
“There’s just something special about the Trojan spirit,” said Cohen. “As always, it’s our pleasure to highlight the world-changing work USC researchers in all disciplines are doing. What’s hot in aging? USC research is!”