BY RUTHANN RICHTER
The Glenn Foundation for Medical Research has awarded a $5 million grant to Stanford University to launch a new center on the biology of aging, focusing on the role of stem cells in the aging process.
At the new Paul F. Glenn Laboratories for the Biology of Aging at Stanford, researchers at the Stanford University School of Medicine will look at how stem cells change as an individual ages and how that contributes to the development of age-related diseases and disorders.
“There is something about age that predisposes us to disease,” said Thomas Rando, MD, PhD, a professor of neurology and neurological sciences who will serve as the director of the new center. “If we could somehow figure out the mechanisms of aging and are able to intervene, it would potentially offer therapy to a wide variety of diseases — not just cancer, heart disease or Alzheimer’s, but all of them.”
The Stanford laboratories will be the fourth in the country to be funded by the Glenn Foundation whose goal is to extend the healthy, productive years of life through research on the biology of aging.
The new laboratories will capitalize on the university’s expertise in stem cell biology. Studies have shown that as people age their stem cells decline in function, becoming less effective in repairing muscle, skin, bone and other tissues, said Rando, who is also deputy director of the Stanford Center on Longevity.
Rando’s work suggests that this decline could be related somehow to the cells’ surrounding environment. In one experiment in his lab several years ago, he connected the circulatory systems of two mice — one younger and one older. Through exposure to a “young” environment, the stem cells in the older animals adapted to behave like young stem cells, he said.
“The old stem cells are viable and functional, but they’re receiving the wrong cues or are suppressed some way in the old environment,” he said. “We’re trying to figure out what those signals are that are suppressing them and whether there is a way to modulate those signals.”
His colleagues at the new Glenn Laboratories at Stanford include Steven Artandi, MD, PhD, associate professor of hematology, and Anne Brunet, PhD, associate professor of genetics, both of whom will serve as associate directors.
Artandi’s work is focused on telomeres, snippets of DNA at the end of the chromosome, which shrink with age and are believed to contribute to the aging process. His lab pioneered the concept that telomerase, an enzyme that can repair the telomeres, has a direct role in stem cell regulation.
Brunet studies the molecular mechanisms of aging and longevity, including aging of the nervous system. Her work is focused on why the number of stem cells in the brain declines with age and how that might be prevented.
In addition to supporting the ongoing work of the three investigators, the Glenn Laboratories at Stanford will support the creation of a program in aging research at Stanford through collaborative grants, fellowships, infrastructure facilities, seminars and symposia. Rando said researchers in the Stanford center will work collaboratively with their counterparts at the three other Glenn Labs at Harvard, MIT and the Salk Institute.
The Glenn Foundation for Medical Research was founded in 1965 by philanthropist and investor Paul F. Glenn. Mark Collins currently serves as the president of the Glenn Foundation.