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Vera Gorbunova to lead 5-year project on longevity

Vera Gorbunova
Vera Gorbunova

Vera Gorbunova, professor of biology, whose innovative research on DNA repair and the aging process has been internationally recognized, has been awarded a $9.5 million grant from the National Institute on Aging to study longevity.

Gorbunova will lead a five-year project, which includes colleagues at Rochester, Harvard University, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, to explore the factors responsible for longevity in various rodent species, with the goal of developing treatments to improve the aging process in people.

“Professor Gorbunova has made tremendous strides with her research on the anti-cancer mechanisms of naked mole rats,” says President Joel Seligman. “We are extremely proud that she will now build on this groundbreaking work by leading colleagues at Harvard University and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine to advance our understanding of problems associated with aging.”

Researchers will focus on rodents because they are genetically similar to humans and have a diverse range of lifespans. Mice and rats, for example, typically live two to four years, while naked mole rats, beavers, porcupines, and squirrels have lifespans in excess of 20 years. Naked mole rats, which have been known to live more than 30 years, are of special interest since they remain free of age-related problems and disease—including cancer—until the very end of their lives.

“As people age, they are more likely to come down with a variety of diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis,” says Gorbunova. “By working together, researchers at the three institutions will be better equipped to make progress in countering age-related health problems in people.”

The work done by Gorbunova and her research partner, Andrei Seluanov, assistant professor of biology, has largely focused on DNA repair and cancer resistance in naked mole rats in order to better understand the mechanisms responsible for longevity. In papers published last year, they identified a chemical that triggers the anticancer response in the naked mole rat and attributed the rodent’s longevity to a process that results in nearly perfect protein synthesis.

Gorbunova says the University will serve as an ideal center for the research project, given the advances already made by her lab and its catalog of tissue and cell samples from 18 rodent species.

“Research grants of this magnitude are extremely difficult to get,” says Gorbunova. “We were successful because of the unique expertise found at the three institutions and the need to study the issues related to aging.”

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