University Awarded $2.5 Million to Establish New Center on Aging

October 13, 2000

The University of Rochester is one of four institutions nationwide chosen to receive funding for a prestigious center focusing on biological issues related to aging. The awards by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) are made to institutions that already have highly respected programs in aging research, to help investigators take advantage of sophisticated new technology and work closely together as they seek to understand the aging process.

The award establishing a Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in Basic Biology of Aging brings with it $2.5 million for the University over the next five years. The Rochester Nathan Shock Center will also serve as a resource for scientists and physicians throughout upstate New York, particularly at the University at Buffalo and the New York Health Science Center at Syracuse. The center will be headed by Howard Federoff, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Center on Aging and Development.

The Nathan Shock centers were created to stimulate and enhance research into the basic biological processes of aging, and to coordinate the wide range of research underway at institutions like the University of Rochester. The funds will be used to give more scientists access to the latest high-tech methods for ferreting out cells' secrets. Among the sophisticated new methods Rochester scientists are using: molecular and cellular imaging, to take detailed "snapshots" of cells, allowing researchers to understand the differences between healthy and sick cells; new DNA array techniques that allow scientists to check out the function of thousands of genes simultaneously; and new ways to deliver genes to cells or body organs. The funds will also be used to make sure promising young scientists have access to these facilities.

At Rochester the focus will be on the basic molecular and cellular biology of aging. Complex cell biology - how important genes turn on and off, how proteins shuttle between cells, and how complex molecules tell the body what to do - forms the foundation for nearly everything that happens in our bodies. Cell biology is also an area in which the University's researchers excel. Currently at the Medical Center there are more than two dozen major research projects looking at the basic biology of diseases like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. At the same time, tens of thousands of patients turn to doctors at Strong Memorial Hospital each year for treatment, along with other patients who use facilities like the Center for Lifetime Wellness to stay fit and healthy as they age. The Shock Center will help bring those researchers and physicians together.

"This center will serve as a catalyst to enhance our portfolio of aging-related research," says Federoff. "The grant will help many investigators become better researchers, and it will help the National Institute on Aging to identify talented researchers who can be persuaded to study problems relevant to aging. Every additional researcher studying aging-related issues gives us a better shot at successful treatments for disease in the future."

The Rochester center also includes biostatisticians from the Medical Center and computer scientists from River Campus who will help design methods that scientists can rely on to make sure they're evaluating findings correctly. Interpretation is crucial, as basic studies lay the foundation for treatment guidelines used by doctors around the country.

The NIA established the nation's first Nathan Shock centers five years ago. This year NIA continued funding at centers at the University of Washington, the University of Michigan, and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. The Rochester center is the only new center to be established this year. The centers are named for Nathan W. Shock, the first scientific director of NIA and a pioneer in the field of aging research.

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