Inside AFAR
Inside AFAR

Insights, Views, and Interviews

Mar 29
2:44 pm

Grantee Spotlight Interview: Claire E. Gustafson, PhD View MoreBACK

AFAR’s grant programs in the biology of aging are central to our mission to support and advance healthy aging through biomedical research. At leading institutions nationwide, our grantees’ hard work, ingenuity, and leadership are advancing cutting-edge research that will help us all live healthier, longer lives.

Explore more in this Grantee Spotlight Interview:

Claire E. Gustafson, PhD
Stanford University
The Irene Diamond Fund/AFAR Postdoctoral Transition Awards in Aging

What inspired you to pursue aging research?
I strongly believe that defining basic immune development and function in healthy people is essential for determining the cause of any immunological disturbance--from infection to autoimmunity to cancer.  As we age, we generally become more susceptible to all of these immune-related diseases, particularly at mucosal tissue sites. However, studies on the changes that occur in the mucosal immune system during “healthy” aging are lacking, leaving us with limited knowledge on how to combat these harmful diseases in older individuals. I am inspired to pursue the study of mucosal immune development and function during healthy aging because this work could ultimately translate into specific clinical interventions to prevent and/or treat harmful immune-mediated diseases affecting an increasingly older population.

In your view, what does AFAR mean to the field, and what does it mean, for you, to receive an AFAR grant now?
Currently, there are few funding sources available to young investigators interested in aging research. AFAR provides an opportunity for young investigators to pursue new and innovative research ideas focused on more translatable aspects of aging. Receiving this grant provides me the support needed to explore a relatively new and under-studied area of aging research, the human mucosal immune system. Moreover, it allows me to study immune aging in the fundamental context of health instead of in the individual context of a specific disease state.

What’s exciting about your research’s potential impact?
There is currently a massive gap in our understanding of mucosal immunity during aging. My research seeks to fill these gaps by establishing basic parameters of normal mucosal immune responses during aging as well as developing improved tools for studying complex human mucosal immune function. In addition, this research will provide a resource for the identification of potential therapeutic interventions to enhance mucosal immunity and prevent harmful infections, as well as other immune-mediated disease, in older individuals.

In three sentences, how would you describe your research to one of your grandparents?
The overall goal of my research is to protect people from getting sick from gut and lung infections as they age. In order to do this, I am looking at a specific type of cell that promotes immunity against these infections in young adults but stops working as you age. I am trying to identify the specific problems with these aging cells that prevents them from functioning properly and to determine how to reverse them.