Inside AFAR
Inside AFAR

Insights, Views, and Interviews

Jan 23
9:49 am

Grantee Spotlight Interview: Vittorio Sebastiano 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, Vittorio Sebastiano, 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.

Vittorio Sebastiano, PhD

Assistant Professor 

Stanford University

AFAR Research Grants for Junior Faculty 2017

What inspired you to pursue aging research?
The rapidly escalating cost for health care devoted to caring for the aged population (>65 years) spells out an imminent socio economical crisis. Substantial advances have been made in understanding the diverse late-onset diseases and dysfunctions that affect the aging population; as it stands though, this approach to treating age diseases individually, means simply managing and abating downstream effects, but not challenging the fundamental and systemic dysregulation that defines the aging process. Therefore there is an unmet medical need to develop a conceptually new approach to treat aging and aging-associated diseases, as the current system is not sustainable for the future.

In your view, what does AFAR mean to the field, and what does it mean, for you, to receive an AFAR grant now?
AFAR fosters innovative basic research that could impact the field of aging from a medical perspective. AFAR puts particular attention to the thriving of young investigators that have “out-of-the-box” ideas but with potential implications on the field of aging. I feel honored that my proposal was considered one of the most promising by the panel of investigators that reviewed the proposals. At this stage of my career it is critical to obtain the resources and the recognition to build a strong and impactful research program.

What’s exciting about your research’s potential impact?
What we have learnt from Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer and induced Pluripotent Stem Cells technologies indicates that reprogramming of somatic cells to an embryonic-like state affects not only the “function” of the cells but also their age. By understanding how this amazing process works, we may understand how to decouple the functional reprogramming from the age resetting and therefore develop a whole body strategy to rejuvenate cells without changing their state. This line of research may have a fundamental impact in aging and lead to a paradigm shift in the way we treat aging and aging-related diseases.

In three sentences, how would you describe your research to one of your grandparents?
Recent scientific findings have demonstrated that we can change the program of a cell to the program of another cell by switching on and off a particular set of genes; for example we can turn a liver cell into a brain cell by expressing the brain cells’ gens in the liver cells. My hypothesis is that we can promote a similar process of reprogramming that could revert only the age of the cells without changing their fundamental characteristics; if proven true, this would mean that we could in principle rejuvenate any cell in the body without changing their function and thus rejuvenate every single organ and perhaps even make a whole body more youthful.