Decoding the Centenarians’ Secret to Disease Resistance and Longevity

To keep up with the world’s rapidly aging population, the NAM launched the Healthy Longevity Global Competition, a multi-stage global competition designed to seek out bold, innovative, and breakthrough ideas that challenge the way we think about aging. The Catalyst Award, the first stage of the competition, rewards exciting opportunities that display prospective improvement in the mental, physical, and social well-being of individuals as they age. George Murphy is one of NAM’s 46 U.S.-based Catalyst Awardees. We hear from George, co-founder of the Boston University and Boston Medical Center’s Center for Regenerative Medicine (CReM), who speaks to the award-winning project seeking solutions in regenerative medicine to extend the human health span.

Can you share a little bit about yourself and your team? How did you come to work together? What advantages does your interdisciplinary team bring?

I am the co-founder of the Boston University and Boston Medical Center’s Center for Regenerative Medicine, which we affectionately refer to as the CReM. At the CReM, we are a group of around 60 like-minded researchers interested in all things related to stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.  At the CReM, we are a bit different in that we don’t just have one type of scientist. Our investigators come from many fields including molecular biology, bioengineering, and bioinformatics, and we all take a team science approach while working in a state-of-the-art facility in a very trans-disciplinary manner, in an effort to combat disease.  At the CReM, we focus on diseases that directly impact our surrounding underserved community, and one of our main charges is to bring cutting-edge, transformative research to the masses. In essence, we like to think that we perform ‘research with reach’ that we hope has the ability to one day transform the lives of all patients here at BMC and the world, regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or socio-economic status. 

Please provide a brief description of your innovative idea/project and explain why it is particularly innovative, bold, and/or novel?

Rare individuals with exceptional longevity suggest we have within us the potential for longer, more healthful lives. In the last decade, several studies have provided evidence that many centenarians and their offspring delay or escape aging-related diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease, while markedly delaying disability.  Tragically, the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionally impacted older people with the majority of deaths due to the disease occurring in those over the age of 65. Yet, there appears to be a subgroup of select survivors, centenarians, that despite this age-related trend, survive COVID-19. These findings provide an unexpected and promising entry point for understanding healthful aging and the mechanisms that limit or embolden disease. Thus, we hypothesize that the characterization of individuals with exceptional longevity who have recovered from SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) infection will lead to an improved understanding of the dynamics of this disease and the ability to resist or recover from it. Additionally, we expect that our studies will provide insight into immune systems that facilitate survival to extreme old age. This project proposes a high-risk, high-reward examination of disease resistance in centenarians that stands to transform our understanding of aging and the mechanisms that may delay or even one day ameliorate age-related disease.

What inspired you to develop your project? Was your original goal improving health for people as they age or did that become apparent later on in the process?

Interestingly, my work and that of the Center that I co-founded (the CReM) focuses on stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, and this work is our first foray into aging research.  We began a collaboration with Dr. Tom Perls here at Boston University, who is among the international leaders in the field of exceptional human longevity, and became fascinated by the field and how our particular set of tools and expertise could contribute to the field. 

How might your innovative idea/project lead to a future breakthrough in the field of healthy longevity? IPSCs stand to revolutionize the way we study human development, model disease, and eventually, treat patients. In our project, we are creating the world’s first iPSC library from individuals with exceptional longevity. These created lines serve as an unlimited resource of exceptional longevity-specific biomaterials and will fuel the development of novel therapeutics for aging-related diseases.

NAM is Seeking Applicants for its 2022 U.S.-Based Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards!
Applications will be accepted from January 17, 2022, through February 28, 2022 at 11:59 pm EST. Applicants from all fields, backgrounds, industries, and specialties are encouraged to complete the unique and simple 2-page application to earn $50,000 USD in seed funding for their innovative projects.

How do you see your project advancing in the future?

We will continue to expand our bank and share these lines openly with everyone in the scientific community.  One of the major concerns with all aging studies is how does one test or validate findings in a functional model?  Our platform in which we employ subject-specific iPSCs that are easily manipulatable can provide this model and revolutionize functional testing and the search for novel therapeutics. 

What motivated you to apply to the Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards? What advice would you have to other prospective applicants?

The Healthy Longevity Catalyst Awards seemed to be the perfect fit for our bold, transformative ideas that may not have been funded via conventional mechanisms. I would encourage future applicants to think big and employ creativity in their project designs. 

Has this award changed your perspective on what healthy longevity looks like?

Yes.  Per my sentiments above, we have started to think about things in terms of healthspan rather than lifespan. 

George Murphy is the co-founder of the Boston University and Boston Medical Center’s Center for Regenerative Medicine (CReM). His work focuses on stem cell biology and regenerative medicine.

Researchers with project proposals can apply here in January 2022 when the Catalyst Award Application opens. To learn more about the NAM’s Catalyst Awardees, check out these stories. For more information about the global Healthy Longevity Global Competition, click here. We appreciate your support in advancing innovative solutions to promote health throughout the human lifespan. Email for questions about the award.

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