Internally Renowned Aging/Cancer Researcher Joins Buck Institute

January 24, 2006  Jan Vijg, PhD, known internationally for his work on gene instability and DNA damage relating to both aging and cancer, has joined the Buck Institute for Age Research as a faculty member.  The appointment highlights the growing prestige of the Institute and marks a milestone in the Institute’s efforts to reach a critical mass of scientists studying the aging process and its connection to age-related disease.

“Having someone of Jan Vijg’s caliber on board at the Buck is particularly exciting as we begin our expansion toward having a critical mass of scientists on board,” said Buck Institute CEO and Scientific Director Dale Bredesen, MD.  “Jan is known for his collaborations and scientific imagination. We expect him be a key player in our efforts to increase the healthy years of life.”

Vijg is particularly recognized for his use of transgenic mice (animals that are altered to express genes for the study of disease) in his investigation of DNA damage. DNA is the genetic blueprint found in the nucleus of every living cell. One theory of aging contends that longevity depends on how well a person’s genes can repair DNA damage.

Over the years, Vijg has been awarded more than $20 million in grants from the federal government and other agencies to lead both individual and collaborative studies that focus on gene mutations and DNA repair. He was recently named an Ellison Medical Foundation Senior Scholar, receiving nearly $1.1 million dollars to develop a mouse model for investigating a specific type of DNA damage in aging, called double-stranded breaks (because both of the DNA “threads” are broken). The study will allow scientists to test a number of novel drug interventions in the mice, measuring their impact on age-related ailments and functional decline. Vijg will also host an International Symposium on the Functional Genomics of Aging in March in Sicily, Italy.

The Dutch-born scientist was most recently a tenured professor of Physiology and led the Genomic Assessment Core at the University of Texas Health Sciences Center in San Antonio. Prior to that, Vijg was section director of molecular genetics at Harvard Medical School/Beth Israel Hospital in Boston.  “My work is focused on aging. The Buck is the only real aging Institute in the country,” said Vijg. “Other universities have ‘centers’ that study aging, but they’re virtual, a group of scientists who work at many  locations with differing agendas . The Buck has the resources and stamina to focus on this one issue.”  Vijg will be bringing three people from his Texas laboratory to work with him at the Buck Institute.

Vijg is the author of more than 200 scientific publications and holds eight patents in research processes and methodologies.  In 1989 he helped develop the MutaMouseTM, the first transgenic animal engineered to detect gene mutations in a living organism. This allowed scientists to monitor the effects of toxic agents on mouse DNA in any of its tissues or organs. Since that time, Vijg has developed new versions of this mouse model, which make it easy for researchers to monitor ongoing changes in DNA in different tissues or during various developmental stages of the mouse lifespan. Vijg received his BS, MSc and PhD from the State University of Leiden in the Netherlands.

The Buck Institute is an independent non-profit organization dedicated to extending the healthspan, the healthy years of each individual’s life.  Buck Institute scientists work in an innovative, interdisciplinary setting to understand the mechanisms of aging and to discover new ways of detecting, preventing and treating age-related conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, stroke and arthritis. Collaborative research at the Institute is supported by state-of-the-art genomics, proteomics and imaging technology.

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