Scientists say the immune system is one of the first things to go as you get older.
A geneticist at the University of Georgia is trying to change that.
University of Georgia genetics professor Nancy Manley just received $2 million in stimulus funds from the federal government to pursue research on the thymus gland.
According to Manley, it's this body part that has a lot to do with why older people are more susceptible to getting sick.
The thymus, a small organ located underneath the breast bones, makes immune cells into your 20s, then it shuts off. Those cells should last you into your early 60s.
It's after that, Manley said, "when you first start to see lack of immune system response, [it's] easier to get sick and [the] immune system doesn't respond to vaccinations."
Manley's research focuses on the gene responsible for shutting the thymus down.
Using genetically altered mice, she wants to see what happens if you keep it on.
"If you could make new cells either throughout your adult life or start up the process to make new ones when you're old," Manley said. "Then they may help with keeping people healthier longer."
Manley said there's a lot of interest in her work because the elderly population is increasing with aging baby-boomers and people are just living longer.