Victoria Lunyak, PhD, Associate Professor
Understanding the epigenetic principles of human adult stem cell aging
Dr. Lunyak studies epigenetics and aging. Everyone has heard of embryonic stem cells, but humans have adult stem cells as well. These cells provide a continual supply of new cells to our tissues as they are needed. However, the ability of stem cells to repopulate tissues declines with age and this may be one factor in the aging process.
Generally speaking, each cell type in the human body starts out with the same genome, two meters of DNA containing our genes that must be packed in a tiny nucleus. But not all cells are alike. The difference is determined by which genes are expressed and made into proteins. The process whereby DNA gets wrapped around repeating histone protein units to generate chromatin (which makes up chromosomes) influences how genes are expressed. Some genes will be more exposed and available than others. Chromatin is also a site of epigenetic modification, containing a network of chemical switches that convey and store information about which genes should be expressed as cells adapt and maintain their fates. Dr. Lunyak’s lab studies how this information is lost or modified during aging in adult stem cell populations. It is likely that this loss of information is a reason why adult stem cells lose function during aging. By discovering these epigenetic changes and identifying ways to reverse them, Dr. Lunyak’s research may lead to methods of improving stem cell function with age, which could improve tissue maintenance and repair in aged individuals and impact generation of stem cells for therapeutic purposes.
Dr. Lunyak received a Master’s Degree in Biophysics from Leningrad Polytechnic Institute in Russia and earned her PhD in Molecular Biology from the St. Petersburg Nuclear Physics Institute at the Russian Academy of Science in St. Petersburg, Russia. She did postdoctoral work at Brown University and at the University of California, San Diego before becoming an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at UCSD. She joined the Buck Institute in 2008. Dr. Lunyak has a U.S. Provisional Patent Application Entitled: "Downregulation of SINE/ALU Retrotransposon Transcription to Induce or Restore Proliferative Capacity and/or Pluripotency to Stem Cell."
Dr. Lunyak welcomes media inquiries on the subjects of epigenetics and human adult stem cells. She serves on the editorial boards of the World Journal of Biological Chemistry, Epigenetics, Mobile Genetic Elements and Longevity & Healthspan.
“By using the power of deep proteomic analysis, next generation sequencing technology and a variety of molecular biology approaches, our goal is not only to identify the age-related epigenetic changes in human adult stem cells, but also to understand their functional consequences for human aging. Both of these goals are of considerable biological and clinical interest. Achieving them will expand our knowledge of multiple age-related pathologies, and offer new therapeutic targets for intervention.”
- Victoria Lunyak, PhD