Glenn Foundation fellows get to work on their projects

The newly established Glenn Center for the Biology of Aging Research at the Buck Institute is focused on the inter-connected mechanisms that drive age-related disease.  The $2 million, five-year grant supports eight postdoctoral research fellows who will work with pairs of faculty mentors on projects that involve seven highly intertwined “pillars of aging,” including inflammation, adaptation to stress, macromolecular damage and epigenetics among others. Read our news release.

Left to right, bottom row: Chong He, Joana Neves, Katie Dumas; second row: Pedro Sousa-Victor, Kristin Obrochta, Arjun Sasikumar

Six of the eight Glenn Fellows have been selected for the program.  Here are their projects:

Katie Dumas is testing the hypothesis that the accumulation of dysfunctional proteins in aging animals results from a breakdown in protein homeostasis (balance) and other stress response mechanisms.  In addition, her work in the nematode C. elegans seeks to show that pharmacologically preventing age-related accumulation of insoluble protein is a productive strategy to combat aging and age-related pathology.  Loss of protein homeostasis is a key driver of many age-related diseases in humans and is recognized as a key element in normal aging. Katie will be mentored by faculty Gordon Lithgow and Simon Melov.

Chong He is an international postdoctoral fellow, having earned her graduate degree in Chemistry from Peking University, China.  Her project expands on the study of two FDA-approved drugs, ibuprofen and gemfibrozil, and the effects these drugs have on aging.  She will be analyzing the links between proteostasis (protein levels in the cell) and metabolism, two of the seven pillars of aging.  The studies will be conducted in yeast in an effort to understand how these drugs impact amino acid uptake and replicative aging. Her faculty mentors for this project are Brian Kennedy and Arvind Ramanathan.

Joana Neves wants to manage inflammation to improve regenerative therapies in the aging retina. The goal of her project is to identify and characterize molecular factors that can be used to harness anti-inflammatory pathways as a strategy to delay retinal degeneration, promote tissue healing, and enhance the success of stem cell therapies. Her work has direct translational potential for diseases like age-related macular degeneration.  Joana has a joint appointment with faculty Deepak Lamba and Henri Jasper, who will continue to mentor her during this project. 

Kristin Obrochta aims to understand the interface between neuroscience and aging by studying neuropeptides. Neuropeptides comprise a large class of signaling molecules which are secreted from neurons and transmit messages within the brain and across the nervous system.  Her project will involve identifying neuron-specific factors that influence stress resistance and aging.  The goal is to identify and characterize common neuropeptides that modulate aging pathways. New insights into how neural signaling changes with age could impact a wide variety of neurodegenerative diseases that are prevalent in older individuals.  She will draw on neuropeptide expertise provided by faculty Jennifer Garrison, as well as mitochondrial and metabolism expertise from faculty Martin Brand. 

Pedro Sousa-Victor is focused on regulating the immune environment to restore the function of stem cells in aging skin. Alleviating inflammation may be an efficient way to restore the regenerative capacity of aging tissues.  Pedro will test this hypothesis in skin by characterizing interactions between epithelial 

stem cells and inflammatory pathways, including those related to the accumulation of senescent cells.  He will be working with three faculty mentors: Henri Jasper, Deepak Lamba and Judith Campisi. 

Arjun Sasikumar did his BS degree in Biotechnology at Birla Institute of Technology in India.  He got his doctorate from Rutgers University, studying the role of translation elongation factor in yeast.  His Glenn Fellowship project will focus on leveraging previous screens in yeast to link epigenetic and metabolic factors to aging. The hope is that uncovering additional pathways that modulate aging in yeast will yield new potential drug candidates that would extend both healthspan and lifespan.  Arjun will be mentored by Rachel Brem and Brian Kennedy, combining the yeast expertise of the Kennedy lab with the bioinformatics expertise of the Brem lab.  

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