Glenn Foundation gift to MIT to fund multiple research initiatives on how we age

Building on its previous gifts to MIT, the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research has pledged $2 million to establish a new center for the study of aging that incorporates research initiatives in the Department of Biology, Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT.

The new Paul F. Glenn Center for Science of Aging Research at MIT will be directed by Novartis Professor of Biology Leonard Guarente. The associate directors will be Li-Huei Tsai, director of the Picower Institute, and Angelika Amon, the Kathleen and Curtis Marble Professor in Cancer Research.

“With this generous gift, the Glenn Foundation will enable us to carry out a multitiered approach and leverage the strengths of all three labs to arrive at new and testable conclusions about what pathways and mechanisms govern aging,” Guarente said. “Behind all of our research is the drive to discover new therapeutic compounds that have the potential to improve the course of the aging process, and hopefully lead the way toward effective treatments for neurodegenerative diseases, like Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, as well as cancer.”

“Our goal is to prevent or delay the onset of age-related disease and decline, thereby extending human healthspan,” said Mark R. Collins, president and director of the Glenn Foundation.

Exploring key pathways and genes of aging

The new center will build upon research that was formerly conducted within the Paul F. Glenn Laboratory for Science of Aging Research, which was established at MIT in 2008 with a $5 million gift from the foundation and expanded with an additional $1 million gift in 2013. These efforts were led by Guarente, a pioneer in the field of aging research who is known for his work to uncover the SIR2 gene, a key regulator of longevity in yeast and worms. Since then, Guarente and his colleagues have continued to explore aging, and key pathways and genes that govern aging in the human brain. A particular focus has been the role of sirtuin activation and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide supplementation in slowing the aging process and diseases of aging. Their recent work involves the use of bioinformatics to advance their analysis.

With support from the Glenn Foundation, Tsai and her team have used pluripotent stem cells derived from both young and old human subjects, including those with Alzheimer’s disease, to identify the neuroprotective effects of sirtuins and chromatin modifiers called histone deacetylases. The Tsai Laboratory’s work within the new Paul F. Glenn Center for Science of Aging Research at MIT will expand their use of stem cells to analyze the structures that support the maintenance of genome integrity as it relates to cognitive decline and neurological disorders in the aging brain. Emerging evidence indicates that genome integrity, or more specifically, accumulation of DNA damage underlies the processes of aging.

Amon’s group will diversify the research profile of Glenn Foundation-funded research at MIT to include studies of aneuploidy. Aneuploidy is a chromosomal disorder that changes the chromosome number compared to the normal complement. This phenomenon has been shown to have a severe impact on human health, including links to miscarriages, mental disability, and cancer; recent studies have also revealed a link to aging. Amon will use single-cell sequencing to assess the chromosomal landscape during human aging and in age-associated diseases to further elucidate whether aneuploidy is associated with aging in humans.

Combining MIT’s strengths to understand how we age

“One of the strengths of MIT is that it houses world-class life sciences, including neurobiology, as well as world-class engineering, including computer science,” Guarente stated. “These strengths will enable us to combine traditional wet lab experiments with computational methods of big data analysis in a unique way. We are thrilled to continue our partnership with the Glenn Foundation in the launch of this new center.”

The mission of the Glenn Foundation, founded in 1965 by Paul F. Glenn, is to extend the healthy productive years of life through research on the mechanisms of biological aging. In addition to funding work at MIT, the foundation has established Glenn Centers For Aging Research at a number of other institutions across the country that collectively form The Glenn Consortium for Research in Aging. For more information about the Glenn Foundation, visitglennfoundation.org.