New Faculty: Rachel Brem, PhD
Associate Professor Rachel Brem is interested in naturally occurring genetic variations that impact characteristics of aging. Using high-throughput screens and computer analysis, she looks at a “haystack” of genomic information from individuals within a particular species to see if there are any interesting “needles” that impact the aging process or a particular age-associted disease. The aim of this unbiased approach is to identify new genes and, perhaps more importantly, to understand the molecular processes that cause individuals to respond differently to aging or a disease process.
Her work is providing a valuable tool to other Buck labs working on specific aspects of aging or age-associated disease. Brem didn’t waste any time getting busy. She is involved in three collaborative projects with Buck faculty, even though her lab just moved to the Institute from the University of California, Berkeley (where she was an Assistant Professor) in January. “I am the only person who does what I do at the Buck,” says Brem. “It’s a fantastic opportunity to work with labs focused on specific aspects of aging research.”
Her initial collaboration with Dr. Pankaj Kapahi is a perfect example of collaborative research synergy. Dietary restriction is a main interest in the Kapahi lab. Working with specific strains of fruit flies, researchers use genetics and compound screenings to understand how the healthspan-extending benefits of dietary restriction might translate to humans. Brem is helping the lab dramatically broaden its scope.
She is screening a large population of wild type fruit flies (that come from a farmer’s market in North Carolina) to discover additional genes or pathways that are involved in dietary restriction. “The work is very exciting,” says Kapahi, who adds that some of the fly strains double lifespan upon dietary restriction while some strains with a differing set of gene variants show no effect. This could be very relevant to humans and may help identify individuals who will or will not respond to nutritional manipulations in their diet. “Ultimately we want to identify humans who will or will not respond to nutritional manipulations. This is the way to do it – Rachel is having a huge impact on our work.“
Brem was introduced to the Buck two years ago via a collaboration with President and CEO Brian Kennedy. Her Berkeley lab did a large-scale screen to identify differences in how proteins are produced across an entire genome in a long-lived strain of single-celled yeast, a model system for aging biology. “I really enjoyed working with Brian. He is a fantastic scientist,” said Brem. “And then I had an opportunity to make significant contributions to the focused research at the Buck. I am like a kid in a candy store – it’s really great to be at the Institute.”