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UTHSC snags $5.2 million grant
October 6, 2009

By Elizabeth Allen - Express-News

First they made the mice live longer. Now they'll see if the mice live better.

Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center are getting a $5.2 million grant to look into the potential age-defying effects of rapamycin.

"This could be groundbreaking in treating aging and age-related diseases," said Arlan Richardson, director of the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies.

In a study published in the journal Nature last summer, researchers from the health science center and two other laboratories gave the drug to 2,000 mice. Overall, the life span of female mice was extended 14 percent, and male mice had a 9 percent increase in life span.

It's exciting, Richardson said, because it's the first drug to show such promise. The only other ways thus far, he said, are caloric restriction and genetic manipulation, which are not applicable to humans.

But the first question Richardson often gets is whether quality of life would also be improved. This study will address that by looking at specific age-related diseases.

"We're using mouse models of human disease," like some cancers, Alzheimer's, cardiovascular disease and immune function, as well as studying exactly how rapamycin works in a body, he said.

They'll also be studying potential harm. For instance, rapamycin is already used to help people adjust to newly transplanted organs, and there are questions that it could suppress the immune system.

The grant money is part of the federal stimulus package and must be spent within two years, Richardson said.

Health science center researchers have gotten 57 grants totaling $29 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, spokesman Will Sansom said.

The $5.2 million rapamycin study is the largest of those. It will be conducted wholly at the health science center and will involve up to 2,000 mice and 21 researchers, including the main researchers on the first study.

Randy Strong, a health science center pharmacology professor, will lead the look at Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, and Dave Sharp, chairman of the center's Institute of Biotechnology, will be co-investigator on a cancer study.


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