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Yale Researchers Named Ellison Foundation Senior Scholars in Aging

New Haven, Conn. — Two distinguished Yale scientists have been named Senior Scholars in Aging research by the Ellison Medical Foundation, a four-year award made// to established investigators for research into understanding development processes that affect lifespan, and age-related diseases and disabilities.

Named at Yale are Frank J. Slack, associate professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, and Sandra L. Wolin, professor of cell biology and of molecular biophysics & biochemistry.

Frank Slack studies the genetic switches that control development, and “aging” as a developmental process. According to Slack, “Changes in gene expression in aged adults — across many species — do not solely seem to be a response to mounting cellular damage. Rather, a conserved, developmentally-timed regulation of gene activity during young adulthood seems to control features of aging.”

Past research on C. elegans and Drosophila, laboratory round worms and fruit flies, demonstrated that in early adulthood these animals turn off a conserved group of genes that mobilize energy from food, and turn on stress response genes. There is a similar trend in human brain tissue, where the switch occurs at around age 40, implying that aging, or specifically the time of death, is under a timed control at the genetic level.

“We found that genes that regulate the timing of events during C. elegans development also regulate timing of aging and death during adulthood,” said Slack. Consistent with the lifespan analysis, mutants he studied were stress-sensitive and aged prematurely. Since some of these genes coded for small non-coding RNAs called microRNAs, his work provided some of the best evidence for a novel role for microRNAs in aging, and opened the potential of using microRNAs to regulate human health during aging.

Slack joined the Yale faculty in 2000 after completing his undergraduate work in microbiology, biochemistry and molecu
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