New research institute focuses on science of aging

New Bakar Aging Research Institute aims to drive deeply collaborative research to enhance translational medicine, progressing novel therapies from lab to clinic to community.

UC San Francisco has launched the Bakar Aging Research Institute (BARI), a scientific community that aims to translate breakthroughs in aging research across many disciplines into new approaches and treatments that help people remain healthy and vibrant in later life.

Longevity.Technology: BARI has lit the blue touch paper at a most opportune time; California has the largest aging population in the US, and in San Francisco and the Bay Area the trend is even more pronounced – some 30 percent of the population will be over age 60 by 2030 according to the San Francisco Human Services Agency.

The new Institute will bring together scientists and clinicians from all UCSF sites to address critical questions related to the science of aging. BARI members will be drawn from the UCSF Memory and Aging Center, the UCSF Hillblom Center for the Biology of Aging, the Department of Medicine’s Division of Geriatrics and the UCSF Institute for Health and Aging, as well as many individual departments.

BARI is headed by stem-cell scientist Leanne Jones, PhD, who joined UCSF from UCLA to serve as director and professor in the Department of Anatomy; she also holds a joint appointment in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Geriatrics.

“For aging research, the Bay Area is one of the best places in the world to be,” said Jones. “That’s one of the reasons UCSF is so appealing to me – in addition to the world-class labs here, you’ve got excellent scientists interested in aging at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, UC Berkeley and Stanford, as well as many biotech and pharma companies on the Peninsula. Starting a new institute at UCSF focused on aging is an unparalleled opportunity.

Seminal discoveries related to aging have been made at UCSF, and I see this new effort as a recognition of those, and laying the foundation for continued groundbreaking work.”

The diverse perspectives and breadth of approaches, coupled with a strongly collaborative culture, means that the Institute sits in an enviable space; in uniting researchers and encouraging cross-collaboration, BARI should position UCSF to make key recruitments in aging science to bridge and build research groups.

“Starting a new institute at UCSF focused on aging is an unparalleled opportunity. Seminal discoveries related to aging have been made at UCSF, and I see this new effort as a recognition of those, and laying the foundation for continued groundbreaking work.”

In addition, BARI researchers will be seeking to uncover the molecular and cellular underpinnings of how and why we age, creating a roadmap to understand what sets the stage for developing age-related diseases such as cancer, neurodegeneration and cardiovascular disease. Working with UCSF’s well-regarded clinicians, BARI researchers will develop cutting-edge technologies and therapeutic strategies to slow or reverse the aging process, as well as new ways to diagnose and tackle diseases of aging.

Being able to take an observation in the lab and immediately work with clinicians to develop a novel therapy or intervention to target the processes that contribute to aging is one of the immediate goals of the new Institute. Fostering communication between scientists and clinicians to enhance translational medicine will be a key part of BARI’s ethos.

However, in addition, BARI sees its mission as extending beyond the lab, and the Institute wishes to help to establish best practices for equitable care for older adults in communities, thereby improving quality of life for everyone.

To lead the new Institute, Jones will be joined by UCSF neuroscientist Saul Villeda, PhD, assistant professor of anatomy, who will serve as associate director. Villeda is well known for his innovative research on aging. His 2020 study demonstrated how exercise prompts the liver to produce an enzyme that promotes better cognitive function and helps prevent neurodegenerative decline. Villeda believes that in the future, this enzyme might be administered as a drug to provide the same benefits to those unable to do vigorous physical activities.

“Philanthropy received for this Institute will invest in the people, technologies, and research projects needed to drive deeply collaborative aging research at UCSF,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. “The Bakar Aging Research Institute will be a key driver for innovation throughout UCSF, and particularly at Parnassus Heights, where it will be headquartered. By aligning our community around a shared research agenda, and empowering them with cutting-edge technology and new faculty positions, work at the BARI will leapfrog our current knowledge in the field.

Stay tuned for our exclusive interview with Leanne Jones coming soon!

Image credit: Leanne Jones

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