Studying these cells could lead to new treatments for diseases ranging from gastrointestinal disease to diabetes.
The conference, which only occurs once every 10 years, provides recommendations to the president and Congress to help shape aging policy for the next 10 years. Past conferences have led to the passage of Medicare and Medicaid, the Supplemental Security Income program and the Older Americans Act.
The 22-member Advisory Committee will advise the president and Congress on a variety of policy areas, including technology, economic security, transportation, housing, health care and other issues of concern to the nation's aging population. Committee members were appointed on May 13.
With the more than 76 million baby boomers turning 50 at a rate of one every seven seconds, the stakes are high.
"We may not have enough time to introduce a number of the innovations already developed," Coughlin said. For example, new technology designed to adapt cars to the needs of older drivers can be applied in two to three years by automakers, but it may take a further 10 years for these changes to percolate through the national fleet, he said.
That means the oldest baby boomers will not reap the full benefits until they are around 75. Changes to the home and community can take even longer. "The Conference on Aging offers us a rare chance to accelerate the process and help older Americans stay productive and connected," Coughlin said.
Coughlin, who joined MIT's Center for Transportation and Logistics and Engineering Systems Division in 1997, is also director of the U.S. Department of Transportation's New England University Transportation Center.
Beginning with his work on older drivers, supported in part by the transportation center, he went on to establish the MIT AgeLab. The first research facility of its kind, the AgeLab brings together the public and private sectors to craft solutions for an aging population.