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October 16, 2007

UMHS geriatrics researcher honored as inaugural grant recipient

Researcher studies fruit flies to examine age-related cardiac function

ANN ARBOR, MI – A University of Michigan Geriatrics Center investigator is a recipient of a new, “surprise” award recognizing promising research in the science of aging. Robert J. Wessells, Ph.D., is one of 25 scientists in the nation recently selected to receive an unsolicited, $50,000 Glenn Foundation Award for Research in the Biological Mechanisms of Aging.

Robert Wessells, Ph.D.The Glenn Award will enhance Wessells’ studies of age-related deterioration of cardiac function using a fruit fly model. By combining fruit fly genetics with physiological measurement, Wessells is examining how cardiac aging is controlled.

His research seeks to define tissue-specific genetic interventions that allow flies to remain “young at heart,” as well as to explain the indirect effects of genetic manipulations in the nervous and endocrine systems on cardiac metabolism. Currently, Wessells’ laboratory is examining the role of diet on long-term cardiac performance during aging.

“I’m interested in how genetic and exterior factors contribute to cardiac aging,” Wessells says. “We know that a young heart is more resistant to stress than an older one. If we can control the changes to cardiac tissue that occur with aging, we can keep the heart resistant to stress and simultaneously lower risk factors for a variety of illness.”

Wessells will use the funds from the Glenn Award to acquire a new camera monitoring system, which will provide superior video images of intact fruit flies and allow for more precise analysis and measurement of cardiac function.

The Glenn Foundation initiated the Glenn Award to recognize and support basic research on the biological mechanisms of aging. No applications or unsolicited nominations for the annual award are accepted. The awards were announced in August as a surprise to each of the recipients.

“Our goal is to select and provide support to researchers whose laboratories will most benefit from an infusion of funds,” says Glenn Foundation President Mark Collins. “The selections were made with the advice of a small panel of invited, external nominators that serve anonymously,” Collins adds. “When we sent notification to the recipients, the responses ranged from complete incredulity to profound gratitude.”

Jeffrey Halter, M.D.Jeffrey Halter, M.D., director of the U-M Geriatrics Center and chief of the Division of Geriatric Medicine, notes the award’s importance. “This award will provide significant support and incentive to Dr. Wessells. His current basic research is an important component of the Geriatrics Center’s biogerontology research program. The Glenn Award is valuable recognition of this work.”

A clinical lecturer in the Department of Internal Medicine, Wessells joined the Geriatrics Center faculty in 2006 after completing his post-doctoral fellowship at U-M and the Burnham Institute for Biomedical Research in San Diego. His work is also supported by the American Heart Association.

The University of Michigan Geriatrics Center is a premier, national resource dedicated to advancing research on aging and  geriatrics health care issues; to providing outstanding educational opportunities in geriatrics for health professions trainees; and to delivering  exemplary, interdisciplinary health care and services for the older population. These activities are conducted with the prevailing mission of increasing the span of healthy, active life for older adults.

The Glenn Foundation for Medical Research was founded in 1965 by Paul F. Glenn with a mission to extend the healthy productive years of life through research on the mechanisms of biological aging.

Written by Kathleen Fitzgerald

 

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