What is the GCRLE?
The GCRLE is a consortium dedicated to building the scientific community and public awareness of female reproductive longevity. It is housed at the Novato, CA campus of the Buck Institute for Aging Research and along with the Center for Reproductive Longevity is a part of the Buck’s ‘moonshot’ initiative to end menopause.
What is the GCRLE’s goal?
Our mission is to positively impact the lives of people around the world and advance equality through the delay or removal of reproductive senescence. We are cultivating science and technology that will allow us to understand ovarian aging well enough to either delay or reverse it.
How is the GCRLE accomplishing its goal?
We are building out the field of reproductive longevity. Because this has been a long-neglected area of research by much of medical science, we are pushing its advancement simultaneously from multiple angles.
1) Through directly funding the research and researchers that are answering the toughest and most important questions in the field.
2) Through the acceleration of the decades-long process of bringing basic science to the clinic. To do so, we are building a broader ecosystem by creating partnerships between academic and industry scientists in order to more quickly bring therapeutics from bench to bedside.
3) We are spreading the word about this initiative so the public is informed that this is possible and a goal for society to pursue.
What is the GCRLE`s 5-10 year outlook?
Within 5 years, we want to vastly improve diagnostics. A woman should be able to understand where she is within her reproductive lifespan and plan accordingly. Current tools are far too primitive to accurately distinguish the variability present between women or for people to make informed decisions.
Within 10 years, we hope to have therapeutics in development that show promise for altering the course of reproductive aging.
Throughout, we want to change the way scientists interact with each other and industry to create a more inclusive, dynamic ecosystem of exchange to encourage innovation in this space.
Why is the study of aging important?
Aging is the number one risk factor for every major disease around the world. Understanding the biological underpinnings of aging will have massive ramifications for medicine. It is not solely about increasing the tail end of lifespan: the fruits of aging research could transform all fields of medicine.
What is senescence?
Senescence can refer to a few related things in biology. Senescence can serve as a synonym for the aging process, whether on the level of a whole organism, organ system, or single cells. In biomedicine, 'cellular senescence' is a state of individual cells associated with a suite of characteristics, including the cessation of cell division, that compromise health. In reproductive longevity and at the GCRLE, senescence is most often used to refer to the deterioration of ovarian function; after menopause, this tissue could be considered fully senescent as it ceases much of its previous function.
Why is reproductive longevity important?
An essential prerequisite of extending longevity is ensuring equality in its application. If we meaningfully extend lifespan without addressing reproductive longevity, gender equality will become worse, not better. Why? First, the onset of menopause causes a woman’s body to age faster; perhaps even faster than a man’s during her later years. Second, every aspect of a woman’s life is influenced by the fact that her reproductive timeframe is limited. The prospect of a longer lifespan could increase a person’s flexibility in life choices, but a woman’s access to such benefits will be limited if they are still restricted to a decreasingly small window of fertility relative to their total lifespan.
Society needs to ensure that advancements in longevity are applied to all people equally- both the health effects and life choice benefits a longer lifespan allows. True equality will not be possible if we do not address the barriers that menopause poses.
How does reproductive longevity relate to overall longevity?
Women who live longer tend to also have a later age at menopause. Their brothers and other genetic relatives also tend to live longer. Preliminary evidence indicates that many of the same biological pathways are involved with both types of aging. Research into reproductive longevity may therefore work synergistically with research into overall longevity.
What effect does menopause have on health?
Menopause, even in healthy females, has an extremely negative effect on women’s bodies and their quality of life. It increases risk for heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, dementia, weight gain, arthritis, and more. Long before menopause, there is a strong connection between a woman’s reproductive function and her overall health. When reproductive tissues decline, they can damage many other aspects of a woman’s well-being.
Where does the field of female reproductive longevity currently stand?
Though a few pioneering researchers have laid the foundations for progress, we still know astonishingly little about some of the most basic questions in ovarian aging. Why are women unable to produce eggs after their initial production in utero? What makes a good versus a poor egg? Why do ovaries age faster than other tissues? Why do some women go through menopause earlier or later? These are the fundamental questions the GCRLE hopes to help the scientific community to answer.
Why are there still so many unanswered questions?
Short answer; a lack of funding. There is funding for and research into geroscience and longevity; there is funding for and research into fertility sciences. There are precious few resources invested into the intersection: the science of reproductive longevity. We aim to fix that.
Another contributor to the issue is that our understanding of female biology has been long neglected. For most of biology’s history, and especially the last 60 years, nearly all mammalian translational research has been performed exclusively on male animals. Only since 2016 has the NIH required its research grantees to use both sexes in their studies. A concerted effort to emphasize research on the female body is necessary.
Why are mothers in their 30’s considered ‘geriatric’ by the medical community?
Ovaries age more than twice as fast as most other tissues. In fact, they are a ‘canary in the coal mine’ for aging. Additionally, women have all of the eggs they will ever have before they are born. When they reach puberty, they will have only 1% of these left. Each menstrual cycle, thousands of this 1% mature, with the release of only one or a few. The result is that by the time someone is in their 30s, there are vanishingly few eggs left.
Do other animals go through menopause?
Only humans and some species of whales go through true menopause- an extended, planned period of reproductive inactivity late in life.
Where can I learn more?
Our white paper, found on our landing page, is a good place to start. You can also access our resources page which includes many webinars, interviews and podcasts on the subject. For more depth on the scientific directions under investigations, visit our Knowledge Hub, or review the projects of our grantees. If you want to go even deeper, reach out to us!
How can I get involved?
We need non-scientist advocates! Share the GCRLE's mission with your family and friends! Please check out our Get Involved page for more information and other ways to help.
Can’t IVF and egg freezing help extend reproductive longevity?
These technologies, while incredibly helpful and necessary for women around the world, are a band-aid. We don’t know exactly what makes a good egg and how to best freeze it for long-term viability. This means that to acquire one good egg, 15 or more need to be taken. Further, the procedures for egg freezing are very invasive. Reproductive longevity research will not only help avoid the necessity of these procedures long-term, in the short-term they may also help better identify viable eggs, leading to more effective and less taxing IVF procedures. Treating the underlying causes of declining fertility is our focus.
Aren't there concerns with having much older mothers?
Our primary goal isn’t to enable women to have babies when they’re 70: more than just functioning ovaries are needed to carry a child.
We want to help women stay women healthier, longer. Menopause accelerates the aging of many other parts of the body. Keeping ovarian function going later in life will help maintain a woman's optimal health.