Neuroscientist Carol A. Barnes wants to optimize people’s brain health and cognition. It’s something she’s been working on for her whole career.
“Aging is not a disease. Aging is a normal developmental process,” she says.
To further the research, Barnes and her team are developing a proposal to create a national precision aging center at the UA to conduct human studies. The project would be funded by the National Institute on Aging.
“One of the main problems with many studies is that they aren’t sampling a large enough population to detect individual differences in both risk and preventative factors, and lifestyle, diet and genetic factors,” she says.
Barnes is working with a colleague at Translational Genomics, or TGen, in Phoenix who has developed a web-based testing platform.
So far, cognitive data have been collected across the United States and around the world from 175,000 people, age 18 and above. In addition to accessing cognition, the program gathers demographic data.
“So we start to get a handle on who are they, where are they, what environments they live in and what their medical and family history is.”
Barnes says she and her colleagues are hoping to expand the study to 250,000 people, adding collaborators across the country. And the assessment program could eventually be available to people in their primary-care clinics.
If the center is funded, researchers would do a “deeper dive analysis” of subjects in four distinct geographic areas in the U.S. to better understand genomes, measurements from brain scans, environments, diet and other lifestyle variables.
“It would be one of the largest cross-sectional studies of aging anywhere,” she says.
It would eventually become a longitudinal study — following the participants over decades. It will take those large numbers of study participants providing information over many years to obtain sufficient data.
Then they will be able to predict, with methods like those used in precision medicine, what kinds of interventions will improve a given individual’s cognition.
“Everyone has their own lifespan. What we want to do is close the gap between lifespan and optimal cognitive health.”