With the arrival of the new Buck-USC PhD program, it’s been an exciting time for everyone. To welcome the new graduate students and engage our current masters students from Dominican University and postdoctoral fellows from the Buck, the Buck faculty organized a Geroscience course for all programs. Buck professors will give lectures on aging-related topics including: neurobiology, stem cells, metabolism, novel approaches in aging research, and interventions in aging. Thus far, we have heard lectures from Dr. Jennifer Garrison on Neuropeptide biology, behavior and aging, Dr. Pejmun Haghighi on Neuronal connectivity and aging, Dr. Henri Jasper on Stem cells and aging, and Dr. Deepak Lamba on Stem cells technologies for treating vision disorders. Read below for a recap of these exciting lectures!
Dr. Garrison kicked off the Neurobiology of Aging module by discussing the role of neuropeptides in the aging process. Neuropeptides play a role in synaptic signaling, and changes in neuropeptide signaling can cause neuronal physiological dysfunction. While decline in neuronal function and disease onset are associated with altered neuropeptide signaling, the possible mechanisms by which neuropeptides are pathogenic are largely undefined. To understand these mechanistic effects, the Garrison lab studies the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans (nematode worm). Be sure to read more about neuropeptides and Dr. Garrison’s exciting work on the next post written by Kenny Wilson, a Buck-USC PhD student!
Dr. Haghighi led the next talk on synaptic function, where he focused on synaptic homeostasis, or the regulation of synaptic activity, in the model organism Drosophila Melanogaster (fruit fly). These homeostatic systems are thought to be in conjunction with neural plasticity mechanisms to ensure the balance between the signals sent from one neuron to the next. The Haghighi lab noted the role of TOR (target of rapamycin) in synaptic regulation and is currently exploring its implications. Want to learn more? Refer to this blog post written by Megumi Mori, a Buck-USC PhD student.
Dr. Jasper began our next module on stem cells and aging, where he discussed the preservation of stem cell function. Dysfunctions such as failed renewal of stem cells, incorrect stem cell differentiation, apoptosis, etc, are associated with age-related decline as seen in the model organisms Mus Musculus (mouse) and Drosophila Melanogaster (fruit fly). In addition to understanding the mechanisms of stem cell function, the Jasper lab is also interested in the effects of stress and calorie intake on lifespan.
Dr. Lamba finished the stem cells module by discussing stem cell technologies that treat vision disorders. His lab in particular is interested in understanding retinal degradation and identifying possible stem cell therapies that can treat retinal disorders. One such disorder is retinitis pigmentosa. This disorder affects the rod photoreceptors; hence one of the symptoms is tunnel vision. As of present, there is only one gene therapy – RPE65 – for treating retinal disorders. The hope is that stem cell technologies may be able to replace dead cells in the eye. There are two useful types of stem cells for this study – adult and pluripotent. The Lamba lab is focused on the pluripotent stem cells, more specifically the embryonic and induced pluripotent stem cells.
These are the lectures that have taken place thus far. Since there are lots of lectures this semester, we will be choosing 1-2 lectures per module to write about per week. Join us as we dive more into the field of aging, understanding the various challenges, possible therapeutic routes, and research that is being conducted right here at the Buck Institute!