Longer Life Foundation celebrates 10th anniversary

On Nov. 20, the Longer Life Foundation (LLF), a cooperative effort between the School of Medicine and the Reinsurance Group of America (RGA), celebrated 10 years of independent research into improving methods for predicting long-term mortality from various diseases and promoting quality and quantity of life. So far, LLF has funded more than 48 research grants, awarding some $2 million to support studies on topics from cancer treatment and screening to diabetes and nutrition to suicide risk.

At the 10th anniversary poster session, School of Medicine dean Larry J. Shapiro is flanked by A. Greig Woodring, president and CEO of RGA International Ltd. (left) and Phillip S. Smalley, M.D., RGA's vice president and medical director.
At the 10th anniversary poster session, School of Medicine dean Larry J. Shapiro is flanked by A. Greig Woodring, president and CEO of RGA International Ltd. (left) and Phillip S. Smalley, M.D., RGA’s vice president and medical director.

“This innovative partnership between Washington University and the RGA is a model of a productive collaboration between academics and industry to advance an important field in science and medicine. The LLF grant program is used to stimulate and facilitate research in identifying prognosticators of disease and longevity, and factors that can prevent disease improve both quality and length of life,” said Samuel Klein, M.D., the Danforth Professor of Medicine and Nutritional Science, director of the Center for Human Nutrition and chief of the Division of Geriatrics and Nutritional Science. “RGA support has helped our investigators raise another $50 million in funding from federal agencies and private foundations to advance this research platform.”

Klein says the School of Medicine has invested more than half a million dollars in LLF research projects, and the school’s Department of Medicine has made a substantial commitment to the recently established Longevity Research Program, led by John O. Holloszy, M.D., professor of medicine. Holloszy is a pioneer in studying the impact of exercise and dietary manipulation on aging and aging-related metabolic abnormalities such as insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease. Associate director, Luigi Fontana, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine, studies the powerful effects of long-term calorie restriction in slowing the aging process in humans. By maintaining a blood and tissue bank from human subjects who have maintained self-imposed calorie-restricted diets with optimal nutrition for years, the program provides access to unique study populations to stimulate innovative and collaborative longevity research.

The anniversary featured lectures from LLF Visiting Scholar Nir Barzilai, M.D., the Ingeborg and Ira Leon Rennert Chair of Aging Research, professor of medicine and molecular genetics and director of the Institute for Aging Research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, and a poster session highlighting Washington University investigators with LLF-funded projects.

The poster presentations included currently funded studies, such as work from David B. Carr, M.D., associate professor of medicine and neurology. He is studying the relationship between driving and stroke recovery. Shin-Ichiro Imai, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of developmental biology, reported on his studies of NAD (nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide) biosynthesis in predicting and extending life-span in humans.

John J. Lehman, M.D., assistant professor of medicine in the Center for Cardiovascular Research, is looking at the relationship between aging and the decline of cellular structures called mitochondria. Mitochondrial dysfunction is related to inflammation and cardiovascular disease. Lehman focused on a substance called PGC-1α that may be important to the mechanism through which calorie restriction slows aging.

Bettina Mittendorfer, Ph.D., associate professor of medicine, reported on her work looking for potential solutions to the problem of muscle loss in aging. She is examining effects of anti-inflammatory therapies on muscle protein metabolism. And Ravi Rasalingan, M.D., assistant professor of medicine, reported on the potential for using sound waves in resting patients to determine the amounts of blood in different regions of the heart and detect blockages in blood vessels that can cause heart attacks.

The call for grant applications for 2009 will occur in February with a March deadline for those proposals. For more information, visit the LLF website at www.longerlife.org.