State-of-the-Art Technique in Aging Research

The “secret of youth” is the chief focus of research at the one and only Department of Gerontology in the nation through a laboratory equipped with the most modern nanostring technology.

At the Faculty of Health of the University of Debrecen, the processes involved in aging are under scrutiny, and the researchers expect to come up with revolutionary findings.

“You cannot stop the process of aging, yet you can slow it down. Healthy diet, physical activity, and your state of mind have key roles in this process, but you have got to start this at an early age. The thing is that, even though it is not apparent, aging does start as early as the moment of conception,” said Imre Semsei, Dean of the Faculty of Health of the University of Debrecen.

Life expectancy for Hungarian women at birth is 79 and a half years, while men can expect to live only a little more than 72 years, and most people start suffering from illnesses in the second half of their life. According to the gerontology expert, this does not necessarily have to be the case. 

Exploration of the reasons and the quest for solution are conducted at the Department of Gerontology of the University of Debrecen, which is the single department in the whole of Hungary that concentrates on aging research and the instruction of related subjects. According to Professor Semsei, as a consequence of the scholarly-scientific work carried out here, the Faculty of Health may become a the Faculty of Health Science in a couple of years’ time.

“This objective is supported by one of the major investments at the faculty, which is also supposed to strengthen our academic background. This is the establishment of Molekuláris Gerontológiai Kutató Laboratórium [Molecular Gerontology Research Laboratory], implemented out of a source of HUF 150 million coming from a grant fund,” said Dr Semsei.

In the research laboratory that is expected to be inaugurated this year, basic gerontology research may be conducted among other things. Research scientists would wish to figure out what factors influence our DNA, and how they speed up or slow down the process of aging. The focal areas of applied science investigations will comprise the relationship of aging with physical activities and with functional food types. In cooperation with Sporttudományi Koordinációs Intézet [Sports Science Coordination Institute] of the university, the focus of research will be on how various sports activities in the case of young and old people prompt and bring about transformations in the human organism at the molecular level.

The other main area of research will be the exploration of the relationships between our diet and the deceleration of aging. The investigations will concentrate specifically on the effects of foods that are functional, that is, nutritional and beneficial from the aspect of health preservation. In this research, a significant role will be assigned to the experts of Mezőgazdaság-, Élelmiszertudományi és Környezetgazdálkodási Kar [Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences and Environmental Management]. As the next step of infrastructural developments, further laboratory units are going to be established at the institution: a venue for physiological examinations, a psychological laboratory, and an Ayurveda research laboratory.

In Molekuláris Gerontológiai Kutató Laboratórium, the scientists will be using a modern piece of equipment for mapping up aging processes with which it is going to be possible to produce findings that rank with the best achievements of this field of research.

“The internationally unique apparatus called nCounter FLEX, which is based on the so-called nanostring technology, is going to be available for domestic researchers first at the University of Debrecen. What is more, we are going to be using this special piece of equipment for the first time specifically for analyses and examinations in the field of aging research, for which reason we expect to come up with pioneering achievements,” said Imre Semsei.

He went on to add that the equipment, which is regarded extraordinary in the field of molecular biology research, would be used also for diagnosing certain diseases, so it can prove to be an advantage in breast cancer diagnostics.

With this equipment, quantitative and qualitative analyses of certain cell components will be possible from this point onwards at the University of Debrecen that used to be unthinkable beforehand. In a given specific reaction, for example, it will be possible to examine not just one but as many as 800 genes simultaneously.

In addition, the researchers will be able to implement the investigation of any transformative process at the molecular level. Apart from checking the effects of medication and certain treatments, it will also be possible to monitor exactly what kind of molecular processes take place during the course of aging.

Nyíregyházi Egészségügyi Kar [The Faculty of Health in Nyíregyháza] has been considered the center of gerontology in Hungary for some time, but the new Molekuláris Gerontológiai Kutató Laboratórium can very easily make this institution the spearhead of aging research. Research and teaching activities carried out at this base can contribute to the efforts of the European Union to make sure that, by the year 2020, the average healthy lifespan of EU citizens should be extended by 2 more years,” said the Dean. Imre Semsei also noted that Hungary was represented in the Brussels-based organization AGE Platform by Debreceni Egyetem Egészségügyi Karának Gerontológia Tudományos Koordinációs Központja [Gerontology Academic Coordination Center of the Faculty of Health of the University of Debrecen].

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