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Inside AFAR

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Mar 9
12:17 pm

Grantee Spotlight Interview: Ömer Yilmaz 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. AFAR grantees are making this the age of aging better.

In this Grantee Spotlight interview, Ömer Yilmaz, MD, PhD, shares what inspired him to enter the field of aging research and what impact he hopes his research will make thanks to AFAR’s support. 

Ömer Yilmaz, MD, PhD

Assistant Professor, 
Massachusetts Institute of Technology

2015 AFAR Research Grant for Junior Faculty



What inspired you to get into aging research?

I have always been fascinated by the question of why adult tissues posses impaired reparative and regenerative capacity in old age and whether these changes are reversible.  Addressing aspects of this question in the aged mammalian intestine, by studying lifespan extending interventions such as calorie restriction, is a primary focus of my lab.

How will AFAR’s support further your research at this point in your career?

The goal of my laboratory is to understand how diverse diets, such as calorie restriction (CR) and high fat diets, influence the regeneration, aging, and development of cancer in the intestine. Current projects in the lab include elucidating how the CR-induced response in Paneth cells impacts intestinal regeneration and tumor initiation in young and old mice. This proposal will fund a new line of research that is focused on understanding the connection between CR and cellular memory in Paneth cells and will complement current projects in the lab. By better understanding how intestinal stem cells adapt to diverse diets, our lab hopes to identify and develop new strategies that reverse the decline in the function of old intestinal stem cells and reduce the growth of cancers involving the intestinal tract.

What’s exciting about your research’s potential impact?

Uncovering chromatin dynamics and the chromatin regulators that account for the calorie restriction (CR) state in the stem cell niche will increase our understanding on the complex regulatory networks that mediate enhanced niche function in CR. Since the CR niche state augments intestinal stem cell function, our findings may provide insights into the development of novel therapeutics that improve intestinal regeneration and function in intestinal aging and diseases. Further, aberrant epigenetic regulation has been linked to several disease states including aging and cancer. Inhibiting chromatin regulators that are responsible for the disease states promises to be a powerful strategy for their treatment.

In three sentences, how would you describe your research?

Intestinal stem cells often require signals from their cellular neighborhood or “niche”, which consists of Paneth cells. The intestine with age undergoes progressive loss of tissue function that includes a reduced ability to regenerate after injury. We will investigate the molecular mechanisms involved in stem cell function by the Paneth cells, and study the role of intestinal stem cells and their niche in aging and in lifespan extending interventions such as calorie restriction.