September 16, 2020

Top San Diego research institutions, led by Salk, to receive an expected $5 million to study cellular aging in humans

Salk News

Top San Diego research institutions, led by Salk, to receive an expected $5 million to study cellular aging in humans

LA JOLLA—The Salk Institute will establish a world-class San Diego Nathan Shock Center (SD-NSC), a consortium with Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute and the University of California San Diego (UC San Diego), to study cellular and tissue aging in humans. The Center will be funded by a grant from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) of the National Institutes of Health expected to total $5 million over the next 5 years (NIA grant number P30AG068635).

Salk Professor Gerald Shadel led the successful grant proposal and will be director of the center. Professors Rusty Gage, Martin Hetzer and Tatyana Sharpee of Salk, Malene Hansen and Peter Adams of Sanford Burnham Prebys, and Anthony Molina of UC San Diego will lead the key research and development cores.

“We are grateful to have this opportunity to establish the San Diego Nathan Shock Center, which will allow us to design novel models to study networks and pathways related to aging,” says Salk President Rusty Gage, holder of the Vi and John Adler Chair for Research on Age-Related Neurodegenerative Disease. “Our hope is to identify key drivers of aging and find new ways to increase the number of healthy years, or health span, of humans.”

Aging is the most significant risk factor for human disease. Human cells and tissues age at different rates depending on their intrinsic properties, where they are in the body and environmental exposures. Yet, scientists do not fully understand this variability (“heterogeneity”) and how it contributes to overall human aging, risk for disease or therapeutic responses.

“We are very excited to be part of the Nathan Shock Center family and to have this outstanding opportunity to facilitate and promote biology of aging research,” says Shadel, holder of the Audrey Geisel Chair in Biomedical Science. “With our unique focus on understanding the heterogeneity of human aging, we hope to unlock more-personalized interventions to delay age-related diseases and increase health span.”

To explore the complex heterogeneity of human aging, the SD-NSC will deploy three cutting-edge Research Resource Cores, including the Human Cell Models of Aging Core, to be led by Gage and Molina, the Heterogeneity of Aging Core, to be led by Hetzer and Adams, and the Integrative Models of Aging Core, to be led by Sharpee. The cores will allow detailed analysis of human cells and organoids (artificially grown clusters of cells that model tissues), derived from a unique aging cohort at UC San Diego that is annotated for multiple measures of actual biological age of individuals. In addition, the cores will provide scientific services to the Nathan Shock Centers network and the aging research community at large, including the dissemination of samples, protocols and computational tools to facilitate the study of heterogeneity in aging.

“The Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology at UC San Diego, and our partners on campus, look forward to working with an outstanding team of researchers to uncover fundamental processes underlying human aging and to provide novel resources for the broader scientific community,” says Molina, associate professor in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego. “We firmly believe that the advances to be made by the SD-NSC will support our mission to optimize the health and well-being of all older adults.”

A Research Development Core headed by Hansen will also be established to encourage and support new investigators to enter the biology of aging field. Through this core, the SD-NSC will provide pilot research grants, workshops and customized mentoring programs to promote the research and development of young investigators, as well as in-person and virtual trainings to spur collaboration and the sharing of knowledge related to the basic biology of aging.

“For years my colleagues and I have been organizing successful symposia such as the annual La Jolla Aging Meeting (LJAM), where we share new aging research and discuss opportunities for collaboration,” says Hansen, professor at Sanford Burnham Prebys as well as associate dean for Student Affairs and faculty advisor for Postdoctoral Training. “The San Diego Nathan Shock Center will enable us to broaden the reach and impact of LJAM, as well as take training and mentoring of the next generation of researchers to a new level.”

The SD-NSC grant builds on Salk’s previously established Optimizing Aging Initiative, which aims to decipher the molecular and cellular causes of aging in order to discover ways to stave off Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and other age-related conditions. As one example, researchers from 10 Salk labs are collaborating to investigate cognitive decline as a failure of interconnected biological systems, as part of a $19.2 million grant from the American Heart Association-Allen Initiative in Brain Health and Cognitive Impairment.

The San Diego Nathan Shock Center will be one of a network of eight Nathan Shock Centers nationwide.

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