Arizona Center on Aging and Department of Immunobiology at UA College of Medicine Receive Joint Grant

<p>One of only six transatlantic research projects to receive first joint funding of its kind to help older adults live longer, healthier lives by understanding the biology of the aging process.</p>

TUCSON -- The Arizona Center on Aging and Department of Immunobiology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine have one of only six transatlantic research projects to receive joint funding from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) in the United States and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) in the United Kingdom. The projects are aimed at helping older adults live longer, healthier lives by understanding the biology of the aging process.

In the first agreement of its kind, the NIA, the U.S. funding agency for aging research, and the BBSRC, the U.K. funding body for bioscience research, are jointly awarding £4M ($7.7932 million) to six projects, each of which includes leading researchers from universities in both the United States and United Kingdom.The UA project will receive nearly $1 million.

By combining researchers from both countries, the projects will bring together the best science from both sides of the Atlantic and capitalize on the different skill sets and assets of each country. The transatlantic research teams’ aim is to generate knowledge about the biology behind aging that ultimately will contribute to a better quality of life and health for the growing older population. Among the challenges that the projects will investigate are: why an older person’s immune system doesn’t always work as well as a younger person’s, what genetic and molecular effects in the body determine age span and how environmental factors impact the genetics of aging.

Janko Nikolich-Zugich, MD, PhD, co-director of the Arizona Center on Aging and chairman of the Department of Immunobiology at the UA College of Medicine, and a member of the UA BIO5 Institute, will team with Arne Akbar, professor with the University College London, on a study, “Mechanisms of Reduced T Cell Immunity in Older Adults.” This collaboration will study the decline in immunity of the skin of older people. It will get optimum experimental data about the way that immune system cells respond to infection in the skin and to determine if it is possible to reverse the problem of reduced immunity in older skin.

“We are seeing increased life expectancy in the developed world and a growing older population as a consequence. Living a long life is one thing, but living a healthy, active and enjoyable life into old age is quite another,” said Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC chief executive. “To appreciate what older people need in order to remain healthy and active we must understand as much as we can about what is going on in an aging body. With this knowledge, our clinical colleagues can develop health care and disease prevention strategies that will see older people on both sides of the Atlantic, and beyond, living fulfilled and happy lives. By working together, BBSRC and NIA have been able to capitalize on the world-class research in both countries and leverage the funding available to our scientists.”

NIA Director Richard J. Hodes, MD, added, “We are excited to expand our scientific pursuits through this unique opportunity to work with our colleagues overseas. Research aimed at better understanding the nature of aging should help us find ways to extend the healthy, active years of life.” As part of the National Institutes of Health, the NIA leads the U.S. federal effort in supporting and conducting research on aging and the medical, social and behavioral issues of older people.

The other five research teams include: Brown University in Providence, R.I., and the University of Glasgow in Scotland, which will work together to test a new biological theory of aging; the University of Georgia in Athens, Ga., and the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, which will examine the effects of fluctuating hormone levels on the immune systems of older adults; Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta and King’s College London, which will investigate how environmental factors can impact the level of activity of certain genes involved in aging; the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and Bangor University in North Wales, which will look to the world’s longest-lived shellfish, the ocean quahog (hard-shell clams that inhabit mud flats along the eastern seaboard from Canada to Florida) to find out what factors affect longevity and how can they lead to a wide variation in lifespan; and the University of Washington in Seattle and Imperial College London, which will focus on a molecular system in cells that is involved in healthy aging.

Professor Kell continued: “We are really delighted to see these valuable international collaborations arise out of the joint sponsorship program we set up with NIA. Science has become a truly global effort these days, and we are very happy to support researchers who are coming together to maximize effort and take full advantage of each other’s strengths.”

The Arizona Center on Aging (ACOA) at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson is committed to advancing the scientific study of aging; expanding opportunities for education and clinical training in gerontology, geriatrics and long-term care; and promoting the welfare of aging persons and their families through clinical and community services and public policy. Established in 1980 as one of a network of Long Term Care Gerontology Centers authorized by the Older Americans Act, the ACOA was approved by the Arizona Board of Regents as a Center of Excellence at the Arizona Health Sciences Center in 1991. The ACOA is sponsored by the UA Colleges of Medicine and Nursing. For more information, visit the center’s Web site, 

The Department of Immunobiology, one of the five basic science departments at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Tucson, conducts cutting edge research in the development, function and regulation of the immune system in health and disease. Areas of study include the biology of microorganisms and their interaction with the immune system over the lifespan of the individual. Goals include improving and regulating the function of the immune system to reduce and prevent illness and death from infectious and autoimmune diseases and cancer. The department educates medical and other health science students, physicians and scientists in all areas of immunobiology and microbiology. For more information, visit the Web site