By Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation
OKLAHOMA CITY — Longevity Impetus Grants has awarded nearly $600,000 to two Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation scientists pursuing bold ideas in the biology of aging.
Researchers Bill Freeman, Ph.D., and Benjamin Miller, Ph.D., received grants in the first phase of the funding program to study cellular functions that impact “lifespan,” or the period of life without illness or disability.
According to the National Council on Aging, 80% of adults over 65 have at least one chronic condition, while almost 70% have two or more. The US Census Bureau estimates that by 2028, 1 in 5 Americans will be 65 or older.
“Aging is the main risk factor for all chronic diseases. If we can slow down the process, we can simultaneously slow down or prevent the onset of diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” said Miller, a physiologist with the Aging Research Program and OMRF metabolism.
The Longevity Impetus Grant program, led by Dutch scientist Martin Borch Jensen, Ph.D., aims to accelerate advances in aging research by evaluating brief grant applications in a short time frame – less than a month between submission and approval. For a traditional federal grant, the entire process, from planning to awarding, can take two years or more.
“Although it sneaks up on you, age-related decline is guaranteed to lead to disease and disability for every person on the planet,” said Impetus founder Jensen. “We support projects that could advance the field as a whole, whether by improving research tools, answering key questions or testing the robustness of exciting results.”
Studies supported by Impetus grants are unusual because they might be considered too risky by traditional funding groups.
“In biomedical research, we tend to take small steps forward on projects that we already believe will be successful,” Freeman said. “These advances are important but not moving as fast as they could.”
Freeman’s Impetus-funded project, a collaboration with OMRF scientist Jonathan Wren, Ph.D., will study biological age by measuring the accumulation of changes in the genome. Miller’s study, in cooperation with Freeman’s lab, will observe how an individual cell’s proteins are broken down and rebuilt, rather than the standard practice of looking at large groups of cells at once.
“These are tough steps to take, and it’s always been done in a certain way,” Miller said. “No one has ever come close to accomplishing what we proposed, so no one wanted to risk funding it until now.”
Freeman said the combination of fast, innovative grants and established funding methods fosters a “productive science environment.” Proposals accepted for these grants have been made possible by ideas and data already derived from regular and long-term support.
“We always have a new big idea,” Miller said. “This is our opportunity to act on one of those great ideas that could lead to a great discovery.”