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Paul Robbins

Deciphering the Causes of Human Aging to Extend ‘Healthspan’

In the next 20 years, the number of individuals in the United States over the age of 65 is projected to double, reaching more than 70 million. More than 90 percent of Americans over 65 have at least one chronic disease, while more than 70 percent have at least two.

While aging may be one of the most familiar (and certainly one of the most discussed) aspects of human biology, it remains one of the least understood. We age but no one really knows precisely how we get there.

Thanks to a new $10.6 million National Institute on Aging grant to a team led by Professor Paul Robbins on the Scripps Florida campus, the puzzling questions of human aging may soon receive answers.

The study will focus on identifying just how damage that accumulates over time drives the human aging process. The scientists will focus their research on stress caused by DNA damage, spec­ifically by looking at the effects of taking away a cell’s ability to repair this damage.

Dr. Robbins is also looking at compounds and even stem cells that could affect stress response pathways in a therapeutic way. “It’s something that our research and the TSRI research environment lend themselves to – identifying pathways as potential therapeutic targets and screening potential drug candidates,” he said. “The ultimate goal isn’t to allow people to live longer, but to help them maintain good health as they age.”

Budget cuts at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have wiped out more than 25 percent of overall funding for research and development since 2003, increasing the need for private giving and creating a challenge for scientists. Dr. Robbins’s $10.6 million grant actually constitutes an 18-percent cut from the funds that he and his team proposed to optimally perform the research.

In his research program, Dr. Robbins focuses on various biological approaches to understanding and treating age-related degenerative diseases, including cancer and diabetes. He has developed a gene therapy approach for treating arthritis and is participating in a clinical trial for osteoarthritis. His laboratory is also studying a novel peptide for bone healing.

“The quality of the research at TSRI is spectacular, not to mention the collaborative atmosphere and the outstanding facilities,” said Dr. Robbins.

Dr. Robbins recently was one of the organizers of the first Scripps Florida Spring Workshop on Biology and Aging, a four-day event devoted to figuring out what might be the best therapeutic approaches to extend human “healthspan” over the next decade. Dozens of scientists from around the country came to Jupiter, Florida to take part in the event.

“The symposium was an unqualified success,” said Dr. Robbins. “It was a remarkable commentary on the growing interest of aging research and a good sign we’re moving in the right direction to develop drugs able to extend human healthspan.”

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Professor Paul Robbins is investigating just how damage that accumulates over time drives the human aging process.