The gift will support the research of the Glenn Center for Aging Research at the Salk Institute, which was established in January 2009, with a $5 million gift from the Glenn Foundation. The center draws from eleven of Salk's leading laboratories specializing in genetic analysis, stem cell biology and metabolism research.
"The biology of aging underlies all the major human diseases," Glenn Foundation President Mark R. Collins says. "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."
Combined with the Salk Institute's uniquely collaborative culture, the support of the Glenn Foundation positions the center to rapidly advance aging research and shed light on ways to stave off a multitude of age-related diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and Alzheimer's Disease.
The Salk center focuses on a three-level approach: whole systems biology, organ biology and cellular aging biology. Expertise in all three areas is required to understand aging, age-related disease and the difference between healthy and pathological aging.
The center is led by Salk professors Jan Karlseder and Martin Hetzer, both of Salk's Molecular and Cell Biology Laboratory. A focus of Karlseder's lab is to understand the functions of telomeres, which are the protein-DNA complexes at the ends of linear chromosomes and are crucial in DNA replication, tumor suppression and aging. "A better understanding of telomere shortening will lead to an ability to influence the aging process, and as a result to the restriction of cancer cell growth," says Karlseder, holder of Salk's Donald and Darlene Shiley Chair.
Hetzer's lab is using emerging technologies to study how different organs of the adult body are maintained. They are particularly interested in identifying the mechanisms underlying the decline of heart and brain function during aging and in understanding how the body's own repair strategies can be stimulated to enhance healthy aging.
For example, the Hetzer lab's recent findings of extremely long-lived cellular structures in the brain revealed new insights into how neurons can function over the entire lifespan of an organism without ever being replaced. These findings have direct implications for our understanding of Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders.
"We hypothesize that the failure to maintain proper levels and functional integrity of long-lived proteins in non-proliferative cells could be a major contributor to age-related changes in cell and tissue function," says Hetzer, holder of Salk's Jesse and Caryl Philips Foundation Chair. "If successful, our studies hold the promise of revealing new principles of protein homeostasis and age-related loss of cell function, both during 'normal' aging and in age-related disease."
The center will use the Glenn Foundation gift to further support research into the biology of normal aging with the objective of developing interventions to delay its onset and progression. The center was the third of eight institutions to join the Glenn Consortium for Research in Aging, which includes Harvard Medical School, MIT Department of Biology, Princeton University and Stanford School of Medicine.