Spring 2008 e-Newsletter
Volume 2, Issue 2

  The Science of Healthier Aging

Thoughts from AFAR - A Note from the Executive Director
2. Events

  • AFAR Annual Awards Dinner
  • AFAR to Host Conference on Aging and the Biology of Cancer
3. Our Grantees
  • In the Lab With... D. Leanne Jones, PhD, 2006 AFAR Research Grant Recipient
  • AFAR Grantees in the News
4. Grants Update
  • Grants Program Overview
  • AFAR Announces 2008 Irving S. Wright Award Recipient and First Recipient of the Vincent Cristofalo Rising Star in Aging Research Award
  • Meeting Dates


Thoughts from AFAR - A Note from the Executive Director


This year is poised to be another successful one for AFAR's grant-management capabilities. In the next few weeks, our 2008 grant recipients will be selected by AFAR's esteemed review committee led so ably by Roger McCarter, PhD. Three hundred thirty two applications were submitted and we once again find ourselves in the unenviable position of selecting only 12% of the many worthy applications we receive. We continue to try to form new collaborations to support new and existing grant programs so that no worthy proposal will be overlooked. We often talk about the promising research being funded (see our In the Lab With... feature below) but we might want to reflect on what wasn't supported and the implications that will have on the progress of aging research.

In addition, as the recent Institute of Medicine report, Retooling for an Aging America: Building the Health Care Work Force, indicated, there will be a daunting shortage of geriatricians to care for an aging society. AFAR shares this concern and seeks to address the need for more geriatrics training at the medical school level through our Medical Student Training in Aging Research (MSTAR) program, supported by the National Institute on Aging; The Cardinal Health Foundation; The John A. Hartford Foundation; Lillian R. Gleitsman Foundation; and the Community Health Foundation of Western & Central New York.

Physicians with a specialty in geriatrics can serve as clinician educators for all physicians, all of whom must learn more about geriatric care. They also will serve as the researchers for learning more about aging processes, delaying disability and ultimately reducing healthcare costs, goals that benefit everyone.


Stephanie Lederman signature
Stephanie Lederman

Back to top



Save the Dates - October 6 and 7, 2008

Back to Basics - AFAR Awards Dinner

Joseph M. Hogan, president and chief executive officer, GE Healthcare; Peter D. Meldrum, president and chief executive officer, Myriad Genetics, Inc.; and John W. Rowe, MD, professor, Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, will be among the honorees at AFAR's annual awards dinner, taking place on October 6, 2008, at the Grand Hyatt in New York City. Please join AFAR as we celebrate the remarkable advances in the field of aging research and recognize the individuals, corporations and foundations that have made significant contributions.

For more information, please contact Nancy O'Leary at 212-703-9977 or Nancy@afar.org.


AFAR to Host Conference on Aging and the Biology of Cancer

On October 6 and 7, 2008, AFAR will host a premier scientific conference, "Aging and Cancer: Two Sides of the Same Coin?" that will explore fundamental aspects of aging and cancer processes and their interactions, both from the basic research and translational perspectives.

Speakers will examine: genetic and epigenetic changes, environmental influences, and host factors such as oxidative stress and cell death. The evolutionary, cellular and molecular relationships among aging, tumor suppressor mechanisms and the development of cancer as well as the interactions of normal aging cells, stem cells and differences in the manifestation of cancer in young and old will also be discussed.

Scientists from industry will discuss product development advances in diagnostic and therapeutic areas, such as the use of magnetic resonance probes, radiopharmaceuticals, and optical probes, new chemotherapeutic agents, and methods to reduce cancer treatment side effects. Novel approaches to therapy will also be highlighted, particularly how they might apply to interventions in the geriatric population.

The program will also feature a panel presentation from the National Cancer Institute-National Institute on Aging recipients of an aging and cancer research grant (five-year report) that will be moderated by NIA director, Richard Hodes, MD on October 6.

Presenters include: Judith Campisi, PhD, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; Steve Austad, PhD, and Rochelle Buffenstein, PhD, both at the University of Texas Health Science Center, Barshop Center for Longevity and Aging Studies; Lawrence A. Loeb, MD, PhD, University of Washington; Thomas Rando, MD, PhD, Stanford University; and Norman Sharpless, MD, and Jack Griffith, PhD, both at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

The conference will be held at the Union League Club, located at 38 East 37th Street, NYC. For more information, please visit our web site http://www.afar.org/cancerconf.html. Space is limited so register early.

Back to top


Our Grantees

In the Lab With... D. Leanne Jones, PhD, 2006 AFAR Research Grant Recipient

D. Leanne Jones, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Biology at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, received an AFAR Research Grant in 2006 to study the Identification of Factors Regulating Aging of the Stem Cell Niche. Her AFAR grant was made possible through the generous contribution of David W. Gore.

We sit down with Dr. Jones to discuss her AFAR-supported research, what it means to the field and its potential impact on many diseases of aging.

What does your research project seek to understand?
Loss of tissue and organ function is a characteristic of aging, and such changes have been attributed to decreases in stem cell function. Stem cells are the building blocks during development of organisms as varied as plants and humans. In addition, stem cells provide for the maintenance and regeneration of tissues, such as blood and skin, throughout the lifetime of an individual. The ability of stem cells to contribute to these processes depends on their ability to divide and generate both new stem cells (self-renewal) as well as specialized cell types (differentiation). Stem cells lose the potential for continued self-renewal when removed from their normal cellular environment, known as the stem cell "niche," suggesting an essential role for the niche in controlling stem cell behavior. The long-term goals of our research are to understand how stem cells, the stem cell environment and the relationship between the two change during aging.

What problems are you addressing and what specific questions will your research seek to answer?
We have found that a major factor contributing to loss of stem cell function over time is aging of the stem cell microenvironment. Our research has shown that one characteristic of aging of the niche is reduced production of self-renewal signals. In other words, the stem cell niche is less able to support stem cells to maintain tissue homeostasis. Therefore, the goal of this project is to determine why the niche no longer produces self-renewal signals and to identify other changes that occur to the stem cell niche in older individuals.

What aspects of your project are most interesting from a scientific point of view?
The fact that the stem cell niche ages was very surprising, as most studies so far had focused on how stem cells age. Our results suggest that it might be possible to maintain stem cell activity and tissue homeostasis longer by ensuring a healthy, functional stem cell environment.

What are the implications of your research for age-related diseases and disorders?
One of the long-term goals of stem cell research is to facilitate the use of stem cells in tissue replacement therapies, also known as regenerative medicine. Regenerative medicine can be defined as a group of new techniques that rely on replacing diseased or dysfunctional cells with healthy ones. In the future, these new techniques may be applied to a wide range of human disorders, including many types of cancer, diabetes, muscle degeneration and neurological diseases such as Parkinson's disease.

If the regulation of stem cell behavior changes over time, stem cells taken from older patients for autologous transplants may be more difficult to grow, leading to unique hurdles to the maintenance of tissue stem cells derived from older individuals in culture. In addition, when considering transplantation of stem cells to treat aging-related disorders, it may be necessary to transplant supporting niche cells in addition to stem cells to provide a "younger" niche that may be more capable of sustaining stem cell self-renewal over time.

Dr. Jones’s AFAR-supported research was published in the October 2007 issue of Cell Stem Cell.

To read about other AFAR grant recipients, visit the AFAR web site.


AFAR Grantees in the News

Many AFAR grantees are gaining attention for their research in high-profile media, helping AFAR better communicate to the public the importance of supporting such research. Some highlights:

Research by Cynthia Carlsson, MD, a 2005 Beeson Scholar, found that a drug used to lower cholesterol may also play a role in slowing the onset of Alzheimer's disease. Her research was cited in a March 27, 2008, article in The Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin), and demonstrated that the middle-aged children of people with Alzheimer's disease who took the statin had improved brain function over the group taking the placebo. A longer study with higher-dose drugs is now being conducted by Dr. Carlsson, an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and medical director of the Memory Assessment Clinic at the William Middleton Veterans Administration Hospital.

A study conducted by Nir Barzilai, MD, and colleagues at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, found evidence of a gene linked to longevity that is mostly found in short women. The study, published in the March 4, 2008, issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found a gene mutation that decreases the activity of an insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which is linked to shorter stature but longer life. Dr. Barzilai's research may aid in the development of drugs that can decrease growth factor hormone that could slow aging. Dr. Barzilai is a recipient of two AFAR-supported grants: a 1994 AFAR Research Grant and a 1997 Beeson Award. His study findings were profiled in Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, Telegraph (UK), and NBC Nightly News.

2005 Beeson Scholar Dellara Terry, MD, MPH, and colleagues from the Boston Medical Center's New England Centenarian Study, reported that for a substantial proportion of their centenarian subjects, avoiding age-related diseases was not necessarily key to their longevity but rather the avoidance of disability associated with diseases. In a study published in the February 11, 2008, issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, the researchers found that one third of 739 centenarians had been living with age-related diseases for 15 or more years, yet were able to delay the effects of their disabilities. The study has ramifications for researchers as a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms for delaying disability in the elderly could allow for better interventional therapies. Dr. Terry's research received widespread media attention, including Forbes.com and The New York Times.

In the February 7, 2008, issue of Nature, Bradley Hyman, MD, PhD, of Massachusetts General Hospital and a 1992 AFAR Research Grant recipient, reported results of an imaging study showing that amyloid plaques, a cause of Alzheimer's disease, can form as early as 24 hours. His research allowed for a greater ability to watch the process of changes in neuron cells over time, from the earliest stages to when the neuron cells are reacting to amyloid plaque. This may ultimately allow greater interventions to prevent amyloid from forming. Dr. Hyman's research was covered in Scientific American, Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report, and Forbes.

Additional listings can be found on our website.

For more information or to inform us of about to be published studies and upcoming media interviews, please contact Stacey Harris at 212-703-9977 or stacey@afar.org.


Back to top


Grants Update


Recipients of the 2008 AFAR Grant Programs will be selected in May 2008 and announced in AFAR's summer 2008 e-newsletter and on the AFAR web site. This includes all grant programs except the Paul Beeson Career Development Awards in Aging Research and the Medical Student Training in Aging Research Program (MSTAR).

2009 grant programs and eligibility information will also be announced in the summer 2008.

To learn more about AFAR grants programs, visit the AFAR web site at http://afar.org/grants.html or contact the AFAR grants department at 212-703-9977. If you would like to be placed on a mailing list to receive periodic updates on AFAR grant programs, please complete a form by clicking here.

AFAR Announces 2008 Irving S. Wright Award Winner and First Recipient of the Vincent Cristofalo Rising Star in Aging Research Award

Arlan Richardson, PhD, director of the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, and Ana Maria Cuervo, MD, PhD, associate professor of Anatomy and Structural Biology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, were chosen as the 2008 recipients of the American Federation for Aging Research Irving S. Wright Award and the first Vincent Cristofalo Rising Star in Aging Research Award, respectively.

Dr. Richardson's research seeks to understand the role oxidative stress/damage play in aging and age-related diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer's disease. By developing and using transgenic and knockout mouse and rat models with alterations in the antioxidant defense system, Dr. Richardson studies how increased or decreased oxidative damage affects survival, age-related pathology, and physiological parameters that are markers of physiological aging. He is also developing assays to measure oxidative damage to proteins.

The Irving S. Wright Award of Distinction is named in honor of the founder of the American Federation for Aging Research and is intended to honor exceptional contributions to basic or clinical research in the field of aging by members of the scientific community.

Dr. Richardson will present the Wright Award Lecture at the Gerontological Society of America's annual meeting in National Harbor, Maryland on Saturday, November 22, 2008.

Dr. Cuervo's work has elucidated a central role for alterations in autophagy as a mechanism in aging and age-related diseases. Modifications in autophagy lead to accumulation of damage components inside cells and an increased sensitivity to stress, hallmarks of the aging process. Her research focuses on understanding how altered and damaged proteins, as those that accumulate in neurodegenerative diseases, can be eliminated from cells. Her research team has identified a novel cell surveillance mechanism that contributes to eliminate these damaged proteins, and have recently developed a transgenic mouse model in which accumulation of damaged proteins with age is dramatically reduced, demonstrating that removal of these toxic products is possible.

The Vincent Cristofalo Rising Star Award in Aging Research honors the late Vincent Cristofalo, PhD, who devoted his professional career to conducting research on aging and encouraging younger scientists to investigate important problems in the biology of aging. The award recognizes outstanding researchers in the first half of their careers who have made major discoveries in the fundamental biology of aging and whose work is deemed likely to be highly influential for decades to come.

Dr. Cuervo will be presenting the Cristofalo Award Lecture at the annual scientific meeting of the American Aging Association in Boulder, Colorado, Saturday, May 31, 2008.

Both awards will be formally presented at the AFAR annual awards dinner taking place in New York City on October 6, 2008. Read the full press release here.


Meeting Dates

The 2008 Beeson Annual Meeting will be held June 19-22, 2008 at the Hyatt Regency Tamaya Resort and Spa at the Santa Ana Pueblo Reservation in New Mexico.

The AFAR Grantee Conference has been scheduled for September 6-9, 2008 at Fess Parker's Double Tree Resort in Santa Barbara, California.

For more information or to register, please contact Hattie Herman at 212-703-9977 or grants@afar.org.

Back to top


Support our Scientists

AFAR, through its partnerships with the National Institute on Aging, foundations, corporations and individuals, has supported scientists at the earliest points in their careers helping them get a foot in the door to begin research careers and conduct the groundbreaking research that have made a significant impact on the health and well-being of all of us as we age. To learn how you can help, visit us at our website or contact Nancy O'Leary at 212-703-9977 or nancy@afar.org.

Back to top