By Nicola Bagalà
Located in Novato, California, not too far from Mount Burdell Preserve and Olompali State Historic Park, is one of the world’s leading research centres for ageing and age-related diseases—the Buck Institute for Research on Aging.
Opened in 1999 thanks to the substantial bequest of American philanthropist Beryl Hamilton Buck, the Buck Institute set to fulfill her wishes that her patrimony be spent to “extend help towards the problems of the aged, not only the indigent but those whose resources cannot begin to provide adequate care.” Over the years, the Institute has certainly honoured its commitment: The Buck can boast some of the most eminent experts on ageing among its research staff, and a number of laboratories that push forward our understanding of age-related pathologies every day—such as the Campisi Lab and the Kennedy Lab, just to name a few.
The Buck’s approach to investigating ageing is a multifaceted one. The institute rightfully acknowledges the necessity to bring together experts from disparate fields of science—from physics to engineering, from mathematics to anthropology—in order to properly understand the complex networks of biochemical processes underlying ageing and ultimately leading to pathology. Biochemistry, molecular endocrinology, proteomics, genomic stability, and cell biology are only some of the areas of investigation of the Buck, and the medical conditions researched by their teams range from Huntington’s disease to ischemia, to Parkinson’s, to cancer and Alzheimer’s. The three main questions the Buck set to answer are why do ageing tissues lose their regeneration capacity, why do stem cells fail to function with ageing, and how do tissues change during ageing so that they no longer support normal regenerative processes.
The names that have succeeded each other at the presidency of the Buck are, naturally, no less illustrious than the rest of its scientists. The founding President of the Buck was Dr. Dale E. Bredesen, a distinguished researcher of Alzheimer’s disease who had priorly held faculty positions at UCSF, UCLA, and the University of California. Dale also directed the Program on Aging the the Burnham Institute.
Dr. Brian Kennedy
The second president of the Buck, appointed in 2010, was Dr. Brian Kennedy, who contributed to the first studies on a class of proteins called Sirtuins and how they influence ageing. He is currently researching the TOR pathway and other similar pathways to understand if and how they can be regulated to treat age-related diseases. Among his other areas of expertise are for example dietary restriction, progeria synDromes, and the genetic mutations behind diseases such as muscular dystrophy and Hutchinson’s disease. His laboratory at the Buck focuses primarily on cardiovascular disease and metabolic synDromes (such as type-2 diabetes).
In January 2016, Dr. Kennedy participated to the debate ‘Lifespans are long enough’ held by Intelligence Squared alongside Dr. de Grey, achieving a clear-cut victory against their opponents. Again in 2016, under Dr. Kennedy’s presidency, the Buck hosted the annual Rejuvenation Biotechnology Conference by SENS foundation, where Brian discussed the issue of aging research funding. Dr. Kennedy currently sits on SENS Research Foundation’s Research Advisory Board, together with a number of other luminaries of biology, genetics, gerontology, and more.
A New Era
The current President of the Buck is Dr. Eric Verdin. Eric received his MD from the University of Liege and had further clinical and research training at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Verdin has published over 200 papers and holds more than fifteen patents; his expertise on metabolism, the role of diet in ageing, and chronic age-related pathologies has earned him prestigious faculty positions at the National Institute of Health, the University of Brussels, UCSF, the Picower Institute for Medical Research, and the Gladstone Institute for Virology and Immunology. Eric’s experience goes beyond academia and extends to the world of biotechnology companies such as Abbvie (which he founded), Elixir, Sirtris, and Google’s Calico.
In its mission to put an end to the diseases of ageing and extend the healthy years of life, the Buck has collaborated with several other organisations of the field. Some examples are the work with BioMarin Pharmaceuticals, which focussed on Dr. Breseden’s research on nerve cell signalling for a rare form of early onset Alzheimer’s disease, Google’s Calico, and SENS Research Foundation, with which the Buck has collaborated among others on neurodegeneration and senescent cells research projects—the latter news also covered by LEAF. We can expect the Buck to Drive much of the coming progress on the front of anti-ageing biotechnologies in the foreseeable future.