The Salk Institute received a $5 milion gift from the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research, becoming the third institution (with Harvard University and MIT) to receive major Glenn funding for studying the molecular basis of aging.
The Glenn Center for Aging Research will draw from nine of Salk's leading laboratories specializing in genetic analysis, stem cell biology and metabolism research to address the overarching goal of defining a healthy lifespan, or healthspan, and answer one of the most elusive questions in biology: Is there a defined biological process of aging that is universal to all organisms?
"The exponential growth of aging research in the last decade has clearly shown us that aging is a multi-faceted process in which several biological events interact to influence aging of an entire organism," said Andrew Dillin, Glenn Center director and associate professor of the Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory. "Salk's well-established culture of collaboration puts us in an exceptional position to move aging research forward and lay the foundation that may stave off a multitude of age-related diseases."
Glenn Foundation President Mark R. Collins announced the grant during the opening reception for the annual Symposium on Biological Complexity at Salk on Jan. 8. Collins said he was "pleased and honored" to be supporting the work of Dillin and others at Salk.
"Why research on aging?" said Collins. "The biology of aging underlies all the major human diseases. To understand the fundamental aging process and to intervene is to delay the onset of disease, to extend the healthful years of life and reduce costs to society."
Dillin said the Salk's Genetic Analysis Group capitalizes on its expertise in a variety of cell types to explore new questions about key genetic pathways involved in cell maintenance and aging, and fully investigates how newly defined genes alter the aging process.
While scientists have learned that stem cells' capacity to selfrenew and differentiate into functioning cells dramatically decrease during the aging process, they still do not know how or why. The Glenn Center's Stem Cell Group, led by Fred H. Gage, professor in the Laboratory of Genetics, studies the specific molecular components associated with aging in stem cells. These studies can help elucidate the procedure stem cells establish to stay healthy - which could explain why and how humans age.
Likewise, the Metabolism Group, led by Ron Evans, professor in the Gene Expression Laboratory, seeks to understand the molecular underpinnings associated with decreased metabolism and the aging process. Specifically, the group looks at how aging affects metabolism across key organ systems and attempts to explain how restrictive diets can alter the expression of different genetic programs.
In support of Salk's commitment to collaboration and training of young scientists, the Glenn Center also includes a Fellows program for graduate and postdoctoral students whose research is focused on the mechanisms of aging, as well as a Scholars program designed to provide resources for scientists to visit Salk where they can work with senior faculty members for up to six months.