Freitag, 26. Juni 2015

How not to run a lifespan study

Every biogerontologist should have a poster on the wall with the following paper:

Spindler SR. Review of the literature and suggestions for the design of rodent survival studies for the identification of compounds that increase health and life span. Age (Dordr). 2011 Mar 22. [Epub ahead of print]

Why do I care about other people's research so much? One could obviously quip: Why does it matter if people run badly designed lifespan studies? Isn't it up to the principal investigator (PI) to decide if they want to screw with taxpayer and grant money? Well, first of all, I don't think that people run these weak studies on purpose, but I do believe they should know better. It's the PI's job to be on top of current research practise. Admittedly, the mouse facility may be out of your control, but if you cannot guarantee high quality, why would you commit to a 4-year lifespan study? The main issue I have with these weak studies is that they waste more than the money of a single research group or a grant. They also lead to unnecessary follow-up research. Let me give a few examples.

Resveratrol research produced a lot of unwarranted hype that was later defused by the NIA's ITP, yet how many research dollars were spent to do so? The initial study by Sinclair fell into a common trap: methodically weak (2), but not terrible enough to rule it out as a waste of a biogerontologist's time. Due to the hype, it produced a lot of unnecessary follow-up work. Soon afterwards, for reasons completely beyond me, Resveratrol was granted three "slots" in the ITP study at varying doses (a slot here is one whole lifespan study, there are 3-5 slots available per year). Instead, we could have studied something more productive, but hype and perhaps politics got in the way.

Another type of "methodically weak, but not terrible" research plagues the fields of autophagy, glycation and aging. These studies are good enough so there is little grant money to repeat what seems like a redundant study, but weak enough to cast doubt on the results (no replication, crypto-CR,  short-lived controls). To quote myself:
Autophagy 
I am not exactly sure what is holding back the field. However, there are 2 promising interventional studies in mice, or perhaps, I should say only two. ATG5 overexpression (7a) in somewhat short-lived strain and hepatic rejuvenation by the Cuervo lab (7b). Unfortunately, Dr. Cuervo has never responded to my inquiries about extending and reproducing her work.
Advanced Glycation Endproducts  
Again, I am not exactly sure what is holding back the field. Since the failure of Alagebrium (around 2013) and some promising studies by Vlassara (around 2007, ref. 9) there has been a dearth of relevant proof of principle studies. I have not kept up with the field, but it seems to have shifted towards diabetes and mechanistic understanding. All in all, I do believe the field may deliver some breakthroughs, but it will take time. Meanwhile reduction of dietary AGEs may provide modest benefits (we don't really know).

Verdict
I really fear that mediocre lifespan studies can stunt the development of whole fields, or as in the case of Resveratrol, completely derail the research. Multiple factors affect mouse lifespan and some are outside of our control (e.g. sporadic infections), but overall husbandry is often inadequate. Researchers need to stay strong and demand better mouse facilities!

References
1. Spindler SR. Review of the literature and suggestions for the design of rodent survival studies for the identification of compounds that increase health and life span. Age (Dordr). 2011 Mar 22. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 21424790.

2. Nature. 2006 Nov 16;444(7117):337-42. Epub 2006 Nov 1.
Resveratrol improves health and survival of mice on a high-calorie diet.
Baur JA1, Pearson KJ, Price NL, Jamieson HA, Lerin C, Kalra A, Prabhu VV, Allard JS, Lopez-Lluch G, Lewis K, Pistell PJ, Poosala S, Becker KG, Boss O, Gwinn D, Wang M, Ramaswamy S, Fishbein KW, Spencer RG, Lakatta EG, Le Couteur D, Shaw RJ, Navas P, Puigserver P, Ingram DK, de Cabo R, Sinclair DA.
Problems: All mice unhealthy (fed a high-fat diet), no maxLS reported. It is not even so much a weak study; it's simply inadequate as an aging study.

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