Inside AFAR
Inside AFAR

Insights, Views, and Interviews

Mar 29
2:46 pm

Grantee Spotlight Interview: Ukrae Cho, 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:

Ukrae Cho, PhD
The Salk Institute for Biological Studies
2018 Glenn Foundation for Medical Research Postdoctoral Fellowships in Aging Research

What inspired you to pursue aging research?
My interest in aging, oddly enough, first sparked when I was taking an ecology class as an undergraduate. In ecology, an ecosystem is considered “stable” when it possesses ecological resistance and resilience; specifically, a stable ecosystem tolerates and recovers from an external perturbation such as wildfire or human activities. However, when resistance and resilience are lost, it strays from the equilibrium. It then occurred to me that the same principle could potentially explain organismal aging. This was the very moment when my fascination with aging began. (And not too surprisingly, few months later while studying physiology, I realized there already is a more comprehensive concept, homeostasis.)

In your view, what does AFAR mean to the field, and what does it mean, for you, to receive an AFAR grant now?
My long-term goal is to lead a research group that focuses on (1) the molecular mechanisms of aging and (2) the development of research tools that enable better spatiotemporal dissection of the aging process in whole animals. Support from AFAR will provide me the stability and confidence to develop into a young leader in the aging field. I am also very excited that I will now be able to attend and present at the AFAR Grantee Conference. I look forward to sharing ideas and building long-lasting friendships with other scientists in the field.

What’s exciting about your research’s potential impact?
The core subunits of the nuclear pore complexes (NPCs) have been shown to have very limited or no turnover in post-mitotic cells such as neurons and cardiomyocytes. The molecular aging of these long-lived proteins results in the loss of the nuclear diffusion barrier, and eventually unregulated mixing of nuclear and cytoplasmic contents. The overarching goals of my research are (1) to better understand the spatiotemporal pattern of this aging phenotype in the mouse brain and (2) to identify key proteins that mislocalize upon the barrier disruption and cause neuronal senescence. My study will establish non-renewable proteins as key aging contributors and reveal how they disrupt cellular homeostasis during aging.

In three sentences, how would you describe your research to one of your grandparents?
The nuclear pore complexes generate a unique biochemical milieu inside a cell to enable vital processes such as gene transcription and regulation. However, age-dependent deterioration of their gatekeeping function brings about unregulated mixing of the nucleoplasm and cytoplasm. I aim to visualize the spatiotemporal pattern of this phenotype in the brain and identify the mechanism(s) by which it causes neuronal aging.