Chairs introduction

Johannes Veldhuis

University of Virginia Health System, NIH General Clinical Research Center, Department of Internal Medicine, Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism, PO Box 800202, Charlottesville, Virginia 22908-0202, USA

The idea from this symposium arose from some conversations that Professor Zvi Laron and I had about a year and a half ago, when we considered meeting in Europe to discuss some of the issues in the ageing field that were puzzling us. From these notions grew a more formalized structure, which I am delighted to see hosted today by the Novartis Foundation. The glory of the format for this type of small meeting is that it is very open to query and enquiry.

I think that it is always productive first to try to focus on some of the unresolved issues in a field. One aspect of research philosophy that I like is that one can identify areas of ignorance honestly: it is considered a point of brilliance to be aware of ignorance, because one can then address the corresponding issue. Thus, this conference will examine some unresolved issues, some of which perhaps were thought to be fait accompli, but in fact are not clearly understood. This foundation of fact building is very important in generating new avenues for research. Smaller discussion groups spawn an interchange of techniques and occasionally stimulate emergence of a new technique: this is something that has happened for me in the past, and it has been a privilege to go away, find a mathematician or physiologist as a collaborator and then perhaps come up with a new method to answer a question that previously couldn't be addressed directly. Thus a corollary aim of this conference is to define possible areas wherein techniques are deficient in ageing research to explore important queries that remain unresolved.

A second intent of this symposium is to represent themes from many branches of endocrinology and selected non-endocrine facets of ageing research. Ecumenism in science promotes interdisciplinary collaboration. One of the joys of my career so far has been viewing research areas that initially appear disparate and trying to catalyse some interaction. This often results in synergistic outcomes and novel, exciting insights. The present symposial format accomplishes this objective.

A third challenge in contemporary ageing research is to coalesce 'among-axes uniformities' in ageing, as distinguished from the between-axes differences. In a fundamental way, clarifying how different neuroendocrine axes behave according to some similar template as they age is going to be important. Then, identifying their distinctions may teach us something vital.

Lastly, modern work is concerned with how neuroendocrine control systems interact. A number of recent papers show that researchers are beginning to examine expressly how the gonadotrophic axis in ageing is interconnected at several levels with the somatotrophic axis. This is a somewhat obvious connection, but I think that we all know from our neuroscience experience that other axes interface in subtle and basic ways. In the broadest sense, axes collaborate via common and parallel neurotransmitter pathways that drive feedforward and feedback signalling. Interactions emerge at the target tissue, too, and this is where one of the big challenges remains: how does one define ageing effects across axes at the distal effector-site level? Most of us study just a single axis, and this is complicated enough. Thus, to begin to integrate results across different axes is one aim of this symposium.

Endocrine Facets of Ageing.

Novartis 242

Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons Ltd Print ISBN 0-471-48 636-1 Online ISBN 0-470-84654-2

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