gerontology

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Overview

Gerontology (from the Greek γέρων, geron, “old man” and –λογία, -logia, “study of”; coined by Ilya Ilyich Mechnokov in 1903) is the study of the social, psychological, cognitive and biological aspects of aging. The latter (biological) is the study of the biological aging process. It is distinguished from geriatrics, which is the branch of medicine that specializes in the treatment of existing disease in older adults. Biological aging refers to the physical changes that reduce the efficiency of organ systems.  It involves interdisciplinary research on biological aging’s causes, effects, and mechanisms.

A subset of gerontology, biogerontology is the scientific investigation of how and why our bodies age. Through examinations of cells, tissues, and organs, biogerontologists seek to understand the aging process at the molecular level. By understanding the aging process, biogerontologists also hope to improve the overall health of people as they age. Some even wish to extend the longevity of life.

Because biogerontology focuses on understanding the aging process and finding new ways to treat age-related diseases, biogerontologists spend much of their time on research and education. Biogerontologists work in research laboratories, comparing the aging process of animals and humans to gain a better understanding of aging factors. Researching the ways other species age provides profound insights into how to reduce age-related diseases and prolong life through experimental practices. For example, biogerontologists have already increased the lifespan of rats and mice by reducing caloric intake. Calorie Reduction (CR) works by diminishing caloric intake while maintaining vitamin and nutrient consumption.

Education

For the student interested in this profession as early as high school, he/she should pursue the sciences, particularly biology and chemistry. As one begins a bachelors degree, it should have a concentration of courses in genetics, microbiology, biology, gerontology, as well as maximum laboratory research.  After completing bachelor’s degree, the aspiring Biogerontologists should go for a master’s degree followed by a Ph.D. to boost their career and profile. Internship or work experience in a biogerontology research laboratory might serve as a big advantage too.

Since its advisable to have at least a Master of Science degree, the following is a partial list of master’s courses to expect :

  • Physiology of Development and Aging
  • Life Span Developmental Psychology
  • Research Methods
  • Micronutrients, Health, and Longevity
  • Applied Policy Skills in Aging

One learning institution, University of Southern California (USC) Davis offers a Ph.D. in Biology of Aging-the first degree of its kind in the United States. Their doctoral program emphasizes research and education on the molecular, cellular, regenerative medicine, and integrative biology of aging. The program gives graduates the unparalleled opportunity to be trained by some of the world’s foremost experts in the field at both the USC Davis School of Gerontology in Los Angeles and the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Northern California.

Employment

By and large, biogerontologists work at research institutions, typically universities or laboratories, though a few also work in the industry and a few companies research aging. Interest in the field of biogerontology is growing as America’s “Baby Boomers” get older. However, this interest doesn’t always translate into funding for research and, therefore, jobs. Pharmaceutical companies are the most likely source of funding for biogerontology research, with most jobs happening at university-based research centers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t have a category for Biogerontology; they are lumped in with the occupation of Medical Scientists. For this group, the median salary was $76,980 in 2012 with a projected growth rate of 13% through 2022. This is consistent with the website Explorehealthcareers.org, which states the salary range for biogerontologists as $60k to $100k or more.