Bjarki Johannesson, PhD, New York Stem Cell Foundation Research Institute; and Daniela Cornacchia, PhD, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
Competition Sponsor: U.S. National Academy of Medicine
Age-dependent diseases are the leading cause of death and morbidity in industrialized countries. It is increasingly recognized that a more efficient strategy than targeting individual diseases will be to counteract aging itself, which would prevent or delay the onset of age-dependent conditions like cardiovascular pathologies, neurodegeneration and overall physiological decay. Fortunately, recent findings in model organisms reveal that aging is not an unstoppable phenomenon as once believed, but can be decelerated or even reversed by specific interventions. However, identifying molecular mechanisms of human aging that can be targeted with drugs remains a major challenge, as conventional drug discovery methods are incompatible with the complex biology of aging. We have developed an innovative system that takes advantage of robotics, advanced cellular imaging, and artificial intelligence to define new cellular features of aging and discover drugs that can modify them. Our project will apply this technology to human skin cells from a large, age-diverse cohort, developing an algorithm that can reliably predict donor age based on cell images. Leveraging recent evidence of the critical role that epigenetics plays in regulating aging, we will initially screen a collection of epigenetic drugs on these cells to identify new anti-aging molecules. We will later apply this technology to the screening of larger collections of drugs as well as genetic factors. This pioneering project will establish an unbiased, unconventional approach for unraveling the biology of aging and fueling new strategies for promoting healthy longevity.
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