Science Market Update

UCSF Biochemistry Research Tackles the Genetic Regulation of Aging

Posted by BCI Staff on Wed, Nov 23, 2011

Dr. Cynthia Kenyon and her colleagues at the University of California, San Francisco, started on an ambitious project two decades ago (much challenged at first): to combat age-related diseases by figuring out what the genetic basis is for aging itself.  That research has produced results that have quite literally changed the terms of the debate, overturning the previous assumption that aging was haphazard and unrelated to genetic behavior.  Thanks to Dr. Kenyon's determination to pursue her research, we now have several enticing keys to the way that bodies get old, or not, and we know that genes do in fact regulate the process of deterioration that tends to accompany aging.  "Aging youthfully" might best describe the longterm aim of Kenyon's work, or "negligible senescence," meaning that age does not lead inevitably to decreased vigor and increased susceptibility to disease.

biochemistry researchA common observation forms the starting point for Dr. Kenyon's research: animals have different lifespans, and they have different genetic makeups.  What causes a bat to live for 50 years but a mouse only 2?  Researchers at the Kenyon Lab do most of their work on a little worm called C. elegans. By manipulating a hormone (daf-2) that regulates the function of another hormonal compound (FOXO), they've been able to produce worms able to live up to 6 times as long, without showing signs of degeneration in their activity level. Current research involves translating laboratory findings into viable treatments for humans suffering from age-related diseases and hormone-activated diseases.

At a research institution in the top ranks worldwide like UCSF, Dr. Kenyon is sought out for interviews, talks (like her recent Ted Talk), conferences, and membership in prestigious organizations.  At those talks, it's clear that the progress being made in the field (one she helped to create) and in her lab on the Mission Bay Campus, is more exciting than ever. Treatments are actually within reach in our lifetime--which, if C. elegans is any indicator--may very well be heartier and more productive.

A short list of Dr. Kenyon's accomplishments at UCSF includes:

  • ucsf biochemistry researchBig breakthrough discovering a “universal hormonal control for aging”
  • Revolutionized thinking on the genetics of aging
  • Co-founder of a drug-development company called Elixir Pharmaceuticals, based in Cambridge MA, to treat primarily metabolic diseases, including diabetes and obesity
  • Current Director of the Hillblom Center for the Biology of Aging at UCSF
  • Membership in the US National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine
  • Past president of the Genetics Society of America


The Kenyon Lab is located within the Department of Biophysics and Biochemistry in the Genentech Building, on the UCSF Mission Bay Campus. The photo above is of Dr. Kenyon (right) and her longtime colleague Dr. Bargmann, who now carries out her research at Rockefeller University in New York. [Both women are graduates of the University of Georgia (to whom we credit this photo) where their parents were professors, and both did their doctoral work at MIT.] 

Dr. Kenyon's NIH/NIA funding for FY 2011 is over $980,000.  Her department at UCSF is looking to recruit another faculty member at the Assistant Professor level.

Biotechnology Calendar Inc. looks forward bringing biotech researchers and product vendors together at our 7th Mission Bay Biotechnology Vendor Showcase event on the bayside campus of UCSF on January 26, 2012.  We hold this premium expo for the UCSF life science community twice annually: once a year on the Parnassus Campus (June 7, 2012), and once a year at the ever-growing Mission Bay Campus.

ucsf research

Tags: University of California San Francisco, gene therapy, California, UCSF

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