The National Institutes of Health has awarded an Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientist $3.3 million to unravel a particular mystery of aging.
Benjamin Miller, Ph.D., will study protein turnover – the body’s process of discarding and creating its building blocks. Thousands reside within a single cell.
“Much like a home deteriorates unless you make proper repairs, your body ages more rapidly without adequate protein maintenance,” Miller said. “Unfortunately, proteins can’t repair themselves, so the body gets rid of the old ones and replaces them with new ones.”
This shed-and-replace process is called protein turnover. Previously, the most advanced method of measuring it was by comparing snapshots taken over time. With advances in technology, Miller’s lab can now track proteins like a moving picture.
“Ultimately, this is about better understanding the aging process. If we know what goes wrong during aging, we can target efforts to prevent that from happening,” said Miller, who chairs the foundation’s Aging and Metabolism Research Program.
Miller’s lab studies the biological process of aging. His work aims to keep people healthy and independent for as long as possible.
Through the five-year grant, he also hopes to better understand which proteins deteriorate faster and the significance each type plays in the aging process. Miller expects to find that protein turnover differs from cell to cell, and that protein damage is more harmful in some cells than others.
“Certain proteins live a long time, so those would be culprits for accumulating damage,” Miller said. “But maybe those particular proteins don’t make much difference in the aging process. That’s the type of determination we hope to make.”
His lab also will explore this apparent paradox: Conventional wisdom among researchers is that aging slows protein turnover, allowing damage to accumulate. However, some treatments known to slow the biological aging process also reduce protein turnover.
Miller said he expects to find that there is considerable nuance within that conventional wisdom.
“When it comes to the body’s proteins, quality is more important than quantity,’” said OMRF Vice President of Research Courtney Griffin, Ph.D. “Dr. Miller’s research will move us a step closer to understanding how we can maintain those that are most significant as we age.”
Miller’s grant, R01AG074551-01A1, was awarded by the National Institute on Aging, part of the NIH. OMRF scientist Bill Freeman, Ph.D., also will participate in this research.