Professor Donald Craig Willcox
Donald Craig Willcox, Ph.D. is Professor of International Public Health and Gerontology at Okinawa International University in Okinawa, Japan. Dr. Willcox is a fluent speaker of Japanese and has extensive cross-national experience in bio-cultural approaches to healthy aging, epidemiology, human nutrition and human population genetics. He is Co-Principal Investigator of the Okinawa Centenarian study, a 30-plus year, ongoing study of the genetic and environmental correlates of exceptional longevity that identified the first gene to be associated with human longevity (Takata et al. Lancet 1987) and numerous lifestyle factors important to healthy aging. He also has a long and successful track record of collaborative research with other studies on healthy aging around the world such as the Honolulu Heart Program, and the Kuakini Hawaii Lifespan Study, the study that first identified the association (since replicated in many other populations) of the FOXO3 gene with healthy aging and longevity in humans (Willcox et al. PNAS, 2008).
He has been successful in establishing cross-cultural research collaborations through the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute on Aging as well as projects supported by national funding agencies in Japan, such as the Japan Society for Promotion of Sciences, among other sources. He currently serves as a research consultant for the NIA-funded Hawaii Lifespan Study and Hawaii Healthspan Study. Both of these studies, and the Okinawa Centenarian Study are large, long term clinical epidemiologic studies of healthy aging with long track records of cross national research that possess the necessary experience and infrastructure to carry forward innovative projects in the area of healthy and successful aging.
Dr. Willcox is a member of several academic societies devoted to research on aging such as the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) and the International Association of Gerontology and Geriatrics (IAGG). He has also been an invited participant at numerous international workshops that have focused upon identifying priorities in aging research such as the recent FUTURAGE workshop (Roadmap for Aging Research in the E.U.), and contributes as Associate Editor to numerous journals devoted to research on aging, such as Journals of Gerontology A :Biological and Medical Sciences (GSA), Gerontology (IAGG) among others. He recently guest edited a special issue on centenarian studies and their contribution to our understanding of the aging process and longevity, published in Current Gerontology and Geriatrics Research.
2013 -Promoting Healthy Aging through Nutrigenomics: The Potential of the Traditional Okinawa Diet
Modifiable, environmental risk factors, such as nutrition, account for most of the variation in the prevalence of age associated disease and nutrigenomics may represent a powerful interventional tool for promoting healthy aging. Evidence indicates that dietary patterns such as the traditional Okinawan diet that are vegetable and fruit heavy (therefore phytonutrient and antioxidant rich) but reduced in red meat, refined grains, saturated fat, sugar, and salt, can contribute to a decreased risk for age associated chronic disease. Nutrients, herbs or spices, in the traditional Okinawan diet such as carotenoids, soy isoflavones and other flavonoids, omega 3 fatty acids, curcumin, as well as an overall dietary pattern high in nutrient density but low in caloric density, can reduce the risk for age associated chronic disease through multiple mechanisms including decreased oxidative stress and altered gene expression. For example, curcumin (from the spice turmeric) can up-regulate the activity of the longevity associated transcription factor FOXO3a, which could represent a mechanism to protect against oxidant- and lipid-induced damage in the inflammatory cells of the vascular system. The traditional Okinawan plant Crepidiastrum lanceolatum can increase the gene expression of erythropoietin in the liver and soy derived peptides can alleviate intestinal inflammation in animal models. Anthocyanins from an extract of the tuber of purple sweet potato have also shown stronger radical-scavenging activity than anthocyanins from grape skin and higher levels of antioxidant activity than ascorbic acid. The traditional Okinawan diet is extremely rich in such “functional foods” and is associated with lower rates of cardiovascular mortality, reduced risk for hormone dependent cancers, as well as healthy aging and longevity. Recent human clinical trials with traditional Okinawan foods have revealed the ability to raise levels of circulating endothelial progenitor cells, among other findings, and may reduce risk for age associated disease and/or be of benefit for anti-aging nutraceuticals or cosmaceuticals.