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Barshop Institute receives a pair of grants; Cash will fuel studies of aging
July 30, 2015

By Peggy O'Hare, San Antonio Express-News

Two prestigious grants have been awarded to San Antonio's Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies to support its research into the biology of aging.

One of the awards, a new grant, establishes a Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center at the Bar-shop Institute, part of the University of Texas Health Science Center. It will be one of 15 Pepper centers in the nation.

The San Antonio site will focus on interventions targeting the aging process and age-related diseases.

The other grant renews funding for the institute's Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Biology of Aging - one of six across the country this year. It will focus on new ways to extend healthy life expectancy.

The Barshop Institute is the only age-related research center in thenation to win both grants this year, said its director, Dr. Nicolas Musi. The University of Michigan achieved this feat in the past, but was not able to do so this year, Musi said.

The funds, awarded by the National Institute on Aging, total $7 million over a five-year period.

Health science center officials called the awards a vote of confidence for the Barshop Institute, named after the late La Quinta hotel chain co-founder and former UT regent Sam Barshop and his wife, Ann.
The renowned aging research program drew notice last year when nine researchers - about a third of its faculty - left for jobs at other universities.

At the time of those departures, former faculty members criticized the health science center's administration, alleging it had become less supportive of scientific research and wasn't providing enough funds to help the Barshop Institute remain competitive.

Both grants are an affirmation by outside reviewers "that the Barshop is healthy, thriving and growing," said Dr. William Henrich, the health science center's president.

The funds will support scientists doing age-related research and help attract new scientists, Henrich added.

He noted the Barshop Institute has hired six new scientists in the past year and a half.

"With this new funding - and the funding being brought in by these recruits - I'm pleased and proud of the direction that the institute's going," Henrich said Wednesday.

Henrich noted the institute had to prove itself during a "very intense competition" for both grants.

The Barshop Institute's Nathan Shock Center application received a perfect score of 10 from National Institute on Aging grant reviewers, which Henrich said is a rare feat.

"I think it's a testament that our peers consider us among the best in the field," Musi said.

Dr. George Perry, dean of the University of Texas at San Antonio's College of Sciences and a well-known researcher of Alzheimer's disease, agreed that a perfect score is not often given on those applications, calling it "highly unusual and rare."

The quests for both grants "are highly competitive. ... It's a real credit to the quality of science being undertaken there," Perry said of the health science center.

Shock was the father of age-related research and formed the Gerontology Research Center at the National Institute on Aging. Pepper, a U.S. senator and congressman for Florida, was described on a Time magazine cover in 1983 as a "spokesman for the elderly." Both men died in 1989.

 

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