The National Institutes of Health has awarded researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, OMRF, and the Veterans Administration Medical Center a five-year, $3.8 million grant to establish the state’s first Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in Basic Biology of Aging.
“This grant is a tribute to the hard work and dedication of these researchers as they strive to better our understanding of the impact of aging on health and ultimately to positively impact the lives of older adults across our state and nation,” said Jason Sanders, M.D., interim senior vice president and provost of the OU Health Sciences Center. “This research is increasingly important with one in seven Americans now over the age of 65, a number that is growing rapidly.”
The long-term goal of the Oklahoma Shock Center is to focus on the newly developing field of “geroscience,” where scientists study both how aging impacts disease as well as changes that occur in aging that predispose people to disease.
“Science is helping people live longer lives, so diseases of aging are on the rise,” said Arlan Richardson, Ph.D., professor of geriatric medicine with the OU College of Medicine and director of the Shock Center. “Cancer, heart attack, stroke, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease all increase with age. Age is the number one risk factor for these diseases. If we can impact the effects of aging, we also can impact a lot of other diseases, as well.”
The successful grant application was more than seven years in the making, said OMRF President Stephen Prescott, M.D. “This grant represents long-term collaboration and a strategic recruiting effort by OMRF’s Aging and Metabolism Research Program and Reynolds Oklahoma Center on Aging at OU to set the stage for a project of this type. Through the addition of more than 10 investigators at the two institutions who study the aging process and debilitating diseases that afflict primarily the elderly, we’ve created an environment where research in aging can flourish.”
Holly Van Remmen, Ph.D., from OMRF’s Aging and Metabolism Research Program, serves as co-director of the center. Richardson, who came to Oklahoma in 2014, directed a Nathan Shock Center at the University of Texas at San Antonio before moving to the OUHSC. He and Van Remmen have more than 50 years of combined experience in the study of aging.
“Nathan Shock Centers provide research hubs that consolidate resources shared by various entities,” said Van Remmen. “With a center here, we can serve as a national resource, share our research interests and extend our collaborations beyond Oklahoma’s borders.”
The new grant will have three key functions:
• To develop a statewide presence as a leader in geroscience, where scientists can collaborate with colleagues at a wide range of institutions;
• Provide funding to support the development of aging-targeted research projects; and
• Provide unique services to researchers that are unavailable from other sources in Oklahoma
Grant funds also will be used to mentor junior investigators, especially at institutions with little aging research. Shock Center staff will provide leadership and direct younger researchers, allowing them access to core facilities to further their research projects. The mentoring is completely free to them but can be very important to their careers, Richardson said.
“In most areas of research these days, the team approach is the way to go,” he said. “As a team, we can focus on the strengths of those on all sides and help everyone go further, faster. This grant will provide unprecedented service to the scientific community at large, not just researchers at the host institutions.”
The Shock Center grant will also establish the Oklahoma Geroscience Consortium, which will bring together aging-focused scientists at OUHSC, OMRF and VAMC, as well as Oklahoma State University and the OU campus in Norman.
Other OU Health Sciences Center researchers on the grant include William Sonntag, Ph.D., and Willard Freeman, Ph.D., of the Reynolds Oklahoma Center on Aging.
At the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, Van Remmen, Luke Szweda, Ph.D., Mike Kinter, Ph.D., and Jonathan Wren, Ph.D., will oversee core facilities.
The Veterans Administration Medical Center component, led by Philip Comp, M.D., Ph.D., will supply equipment for a core facility.
“Some research centers are disease-specific, with a focus on one condition, like cancer or diabetes,” said Richardson. “But we want to make a major impact on the overall quality of life—not just cure one disease. This grant will help us take many steps toward achieving this goal.”
Other institutions chosen as Nathan Shock Centers of Excellence are the University of Texas at San Antonio, University of Washington, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Jackson Laboratory and the University of Alabama.