Catholic Charities Santa Rosa Caritas Village Update

Have you been downtown lately? If not, you’re missing something big! The entire site for Caritas Center is nearly prepped for construction.

Even bigger, the community has brought us to a new milestone for the Capital Campaign: we have reached $25.5M!

Their generous donors continue to inspire me every day as we work towards our campaign goal of $28M. Thank you.

Caritas Village will combine Caritas Center (a housing-focused service center, emergency family shelter, childcare and preschool center, community clinic and medical respite shelter all owned and operated by Catholic Charities) and Caritas Homes (128 units of permanent affordable housing to be constructed and managed by Burbank Housing.)

Caritas Homes is on track as a priority project for Burbank Housing, with construction of Homes Phase 1 expected to begin in summer of 2021.

In September Catholic Charities signed a construction contract with Wright Contracting, a well-respected firm that is responsible for major components of notable resources such as Cardinal Newman School, Santa Rosa Junior College, Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Redwood Empire Food Bank, and Sonoma State University, just to name a few.

I’m humbled and grateful to share that despite the pandemic, wildfires, and other upheaval this year, our community has stepped up with amazingly generous gifts to the Caritas Village Campaign this year. This November we reached $25.5M raised toward our $28M goal.

You can click here to see a complete list of campaign donors, and we are so glad many of you are included among those on the list. . 

We are seeing the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, and we are now turning to the community at large to help us close the gap.

Caritas Village has been an enormous undertaking, and I have found it helpful to stay focused on an important number: one. One child, saved from the perils of homelessness, restored to a safe and healthy home and a radically different future. One veteran, struggling with PTSD and physical disabilities, able to get much-deserved medical care and permanent housing. One grandmother, recovering from serious surgery in a comfortable bed rather than under a freeway.

Each of these is ONE of over 1,200 people per year for whom Caritas Village will be a place to find home…

We have come this far thanks to our community’s generous and compassionate heart.

Redwood Credit Union Recognized for Outstanding Performance in Investment Services

Six wealth management advisors at Redwood Credit Union (RCU) received Pacesetter awards, and RCU’s investment marketing efforts were also recognized at the CUSO Financial Services (CFS) 2020 Annual Conference. Earning Gold Pacesetter Awards were Mike DeFazio (his 11th consecutive gold win), Julie Nix, and Clark Matthiessen. Christine Foster earned the Silver Pacesetter Award, and Steve Kerston and Joseph Turfa earned Bronze Pacesetter Awards. In addition, RCU received its 4th consecutive Gold Impact award for its wealth management services marketing campaign.

Affiliated with broker dealer and Registered Investment Advisor, CUSO Financial Services, LP, DeFazio, Nix, Matthiessen, Foster, Kerston, and Turfa were recognized for being the top-producing registered representatives among hundreds of credit union and bank programs across the country.

DeFazio joined RCU’s wealth management team in 2007, bringing more than 10 years of business and management experience. Nix has been with RCU since 2014, assisting clients with portfolio analysis, retirement planning, risk assessment and more. Foster has more than 28 years of experience in financial services and has worked for RCU since 2001. Matthiessen has also been a financial advisor at the credit union since 2001, helping members develop investment strategies that meet their individual goals. Kerston started at RCU in 2010 and specializes in retirement planning and risk management. And Turfa joined RCU’s wealth management team in 2009, bringing more than 15 years of retirement planning and investment experience.

“We’re proud to see these advisors recognized for their accomplishments,” said Tom Hubert, senior vice president of wealth management, auto services and insurance services at RCU. “In a crowded industry, these individuals have established themselves as professionals of the highest caliber. They are an inspiration to all of us who strive for excellence in our profession.”

Sonoma State’s DREAM Center Receives Multiple Recognitions for its Service to Undocumented Students

Sonoma State University’s DREAM Center, which aims to provide a safe space for undocumented students to receive academic, personal, and professional guidance, has been recognized with an esteemed award for it’s development of a program for undocumented students interested in immigration-related issues.

The DREAM Center’s ASPIRE Fellowship Program, which offers job skills training opportunities to students that are unable to be employed on campus due to their immigration status, was recently awarded the NASPA Region VI Innovative Program Award. The program provides students with a stipend for their leadership on campus where they are acquiring skills that can be used to build a resume.

This award recognizes SSU’s DREAM Center for outstanding programming that results in improved service to students and enhances life on campus.

“This is an incredible honor and well deserved,” said Wm. Gregory Sawyer, vice president for Student Affairs. “The Division of Student Affairs is extremely proud and grateful for the Dream Center team and their coordinator, Rosa Salamanca Moreira, for developing this creative and heartfelt program that benefits our undocumented students by providing a stipend based professional learning environment.”

And, as a further recognition of their important work serving undocumented students, the DREAM Center has been awarded a $15,000 grant from the Community Foundation Sonoma County. The grant will allow the DREAM Center flexibility to expand its Undocu-Survival Initiative, which provides financial and technology assistance to undocumented students so that that they may continue in their education and employment.

The grant will provide resources to undocumented students in a wide range of areas, from at-home learning environment upgrades such as laptops, hotspots, and noise-canceling headphones to assistance with DACA renewal application scholarships and basic needs grants for students financially impacted by COVID-19.

“Undocumented families are essential, however, they do not qualify for federally funded programs,” said Rosa Salamanca, DREAM Center coordinator. “With the generous support from the Community Foundation Sonoma County, the DREAM Center is beyond excited to provide financial and technology assistance for undocumented students on campus.”

The DREAM Center, which is now in its third year on campus, and assists more than 200 undocumented students currenlty attending Sonoma State. For more information about the DREAM Center, visit the DREAM Center website, and for resources regarding finding career opportunities for undocumented students, visit the Career Center’s Uncodumented and DACA students website.

ABOUT US: With a student population of 9,200, Sonoma State is a regionally serving public university committed to educational access and excellence. Guided by our core values and driven by a commitment to the liberal arts and sciences, Sonoma State delivers high-quality education through innovative programs that leverage the economic, cultural and natural resources of the North Bay. See more news from SSU at

Sonoma Raceway Takes Virtual Food Drive into High Gear

Sonoma Raceway has kicked off its season of giving with the 20th annual Thanksgiving Food Drive, but for the first time ever, the food drive will take place virtually, Nov. 2-Dec. 5.

 Through the Virtual Food Drive, race fans can donate nutritious food without lifting a can. Each week for five consecutive weeks, Sonoma Raceway will utilize its social media channels to highlight Bay Area food banks, including Alameda County, Contra Costa-Solano Counties, Napa County, San Francisco-Marin Counties and Sonoma County, and encourage race fans and community members to donate online.

The raceway’s annual food drive has distributed more than 40 tons of food since its inception in 2000, including nearly 2,500-pounds of food and more than $2,400 in donations in 2019. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the raceway has suspended the donation of non-perishable food items, but encourages donating virtually to the food banks listed below.

“I can’t tell you how much we appreciate all that Sonoma Raceway does for us,” said Dee Weaver, volunteer coordinator for the F.I.S.H. Holiday Food Basket Program. “The monetary donations will help with gift certificates for meat and produce for each participant, as we will have about 450 families sign up for holiday food baskets.”

In addition, RKA, a Windsor-based manufacturer and retailer of motorcycle equipment and luggage, is accepting monetary donations for Redwood Empire Food Bank and F.I.S.H. in Sonoma. For the past 19 years, RKA has coordinated a food drive motorcycle ride, collecting donations for area food banks, but has cancelled this year’s ride due to the pandemic. Currently, RKA is offering a $25 gift certificate for any single product they offer in exchange for a donation of $100 or more to REFB or FISH. For contact information, visit

Donations can be made to the following food banks on behalf of the Sonoma Raceway Thanksgiving Food Drive: 

·        Nov. 1-7:  Redwood Empire Food Bank and Friends in Sonoma Helping

·        Nov. 8-14: Community Action of Napa Valley

·        Nov. 15-21: San Francisco-Marin Food Bank

·        Nov. 22-28: Alameda County Community Food Bank

·        Nov. 29-Dec. 5:  Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano

 For more information about the food drive, visit, follow @RaceSonoma on social media or contact Jen Imbimbo at or 707-933-3981.

CannaCraft’s CEO Jim Hourigan Spotlight

Full birth name: James “Jim” Hourigan

Title: Chief Executive Officer

Company: CannaCraft

Years at current company: 2

Education profile: MBA from the University of Dallas, a Bachelor’s degree in Business from the State University of New York, and certification through executive education programs at INSEAD University in Paris and Ashridge Business School in London.

Latest product offering: At CannaCraft, we have a handful of California’s top brands including AbsoluteXtracts (ABX), Hi-Fi Hops (a partnership with Lagunitas) and Satori Confections.

Our latest offerings come from Care By Design: We’ve recently reformulated our best-selling ratio line. The tincture and soft gel products now have an increased cannabinoid count by more than 25% per ratio, as well as the minor (but mighty) cannabinoids, CBDa and THCa. And we now offer a groundbreaking new ratio, the highest available in the California market – 40:1. This 40:1 offers those who are less familiar with cannabis to experience its benefits without worrying about psycho-activity.

Not only has Care By Design added CBD and minor cannabinoids, but we’ve been able to make these improvements without raising our prices. Consumers can experience the wellness benefits of cannabis in measurable doses, and access better value. The reformulated tinctures are available in a new 30ml value size, and the entire line of 36 products across six ratios and five product forms (tinctures, gummies, soft gels, topicals, and vapes) can be found at hundreds of licensed dispensaries around California.

Care By Design Hemp: Formulated and manufactured by the same team of scientists and experts that created our top-selling signature ratio line, Care By Design Hemp is now available online and ships nationwide.

Care By Design Hemp is available in both sublingual drop and gel capsule form, and includes five effect-based options: Relief, Rest, Calm, Balance, Uplift. Each formulation is created with California sungrown hemp CBD and carefully selected botanical terpenes to maximize therapeutic benefits. Like all Care By Design products, the hemp line meets the highest standards for safety and efficacy and is triple-tested to ensure purity, consistency, and potency.

Company Mission: Cultivating Health & Happiness through Cannabis

Company’s most successful achievement: Beyond building the most comprehensive portfolio of brands and form factors we are most proud of our work in our community – when we had Fires and now it seems like every year but in 2017 CannaCraft donated 12,000 sq ft office space for the American Red Cross Headquarters for Northern California fire relief.

Has the company raised any capital (yes or no): Yes

if so, how much?: Through our Friends & Family program – $27m

Any plans on raising capital in the future? We are always looking to improve our financial position but have no formal plans finalized

Most important company 5-year goal: We would like to have established CannaCraft and our brands across North America as trusted, caring and authentic with consumers.

Redwood Credit Union’s International Credit Union Day Celebration Raises More than $36,000 for Local Food Banks

Redwood Credit Union (RCU) joined credit unions around the world to celebrate International Credit Union (ICU) Day, a time to pay tribute to the credit union difference and the important role credit unions play in their communities.

One of the ways RCU honored the day was by donating 25 cents to local food banks in Sonoma, Napa, Marin, Lake, San Francisco, and Mendocino counties each time members used their RCU Visa® debit or credit card on October 15. In total, more than $36,000 was donated to Redwood Empire Food Bank, Community Action of Napa Valley, and SF-Marin Food Bank.

RCU also ran a contest on its Facebook page where members could win cash prizes. And a coloring page for children was made available for download on the credit union’s website.

“Credit unions were founded on the principle of ‘people helping people,’ and International Credit Union Day celebrates the benefits credit unions provide,” says RCU President and CEO, Brett Martinez. “As economic instability has led to food insecurity, doubling the impact on local food banks, we can all take part in ensuring no one goes hungry. We’re honored to be part of an industry that supports its communities.”

Credit unions are cooperatives, which means they’re owned by their members, with each member having an equal share. Credit union earnings are returned to members through better rates, fewer fees, and access to competitive services such as a nationwide network of more than 30,000 fee-free ATMs. Anyone can bank with a credit union; most credit unions are community based, which means they can serve anyone living or working in a specific geographic region.

About Redwood Credit Union
Founded in 1950, Redwood Credit Union is a full-service financial institution providing personal and business banking to consumers and businesses in the North Bay and San Francisco. RCU offers complete financial services including checking and savings accounts, auto and home loans, credit cards, online and mobile banking, business services, commercial and SBA lending, and more. Wealth management and investment services are available through CUSO Financial Services L.P., and through RCU Services Group (RCU’s wholly owned subsidiary), insurance and auto-purchasing services are also available. RCU has $5.8 billion in assets and serves approximately 370,000 members with full-service branches from San Francisco to Ukiah. For more information, call 1 (800) 479-7928, visit, or follow RCU on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for news and updates.

The Buck Institute for Research on Aging Finds A Metabolite Produced by the Body Increases Lifespan and Dramatically Compresses Late-Life Morbidity in Mice

Middle-aged mice that had the naturally-occurring metabolite alpha-ketaglutarate (AKG) added to their chow had a better “old age.” They were healthier as they aged and experienced a dramatically shorter time of disease and disability before they died, a first for research involving mammals. Results from the double-blinded study, published in Cell Metabolism, were based on clinically-relevant markers of healthspan.

Previous studies show that blood plasma levels of AKG can drop up to 10-fold as we age.

Fasting and exercise, already shown to promote longevity, increase the production of AKG. AKG is not found in the normal diet, making supplementation the only feasible way to restore its levels.

“The standard for efficacy in research on aging is whether interventions actually improve healthspan. We’ve reached that mark here with a compound that is naturally produced by the body and is generally shown to be safe,” said Buck professor and senior author Gordon Lithgow, PhD. Noting that some of the mice did experience moderate lifespan extension (the average was around 12%), measures of healthspan increased more than 40 percent. Lithgow says the goal is always to compress the time of disease and frailty. “The nightmare scenario has always been life extension with no reduction in disability. In this study, the treated middle-aged mice got healthier over time. Even the mice that died early saw improvements in their health, which was really surprising and encouraging.”

AKG is involved in many fundamental physiological processes. It contributes to metabolism, providing energy for cellular processes. It helps stimulate collagen and protein synthesis and influences age-related processes including stem cell proliferation. AKG inhibits the breakdown of protein in muscles, making it a popular supplement among athletes. It also has been used to treat osteoporosis and kidney diseases.

“The mice that were fed AKG showed a decrease in levels of systemic inflammatory cytokines,” said Azar Asadi Shahmirzadi, Pharm.D, PhD, Buck postdoctoral fellow and lead scientist on the study. “Treatment with AKG promoted the production of Interleukin 10 (IL-10) which has anti-inflammatory properties and helps maintain normal tissue homeostasis.  Chronic inflammation is a huge driver of aging. We think suppression of inflammation could be the basis for the extension of lifespan and probably healthspan, and are looking forward to more follow up in this regard.” She also added, “We observed no significant adverse effects upon chronic administration of the metabolite, which is very important.”

Asadi said many of the study results were sex specific, with female mice generally faring better than males. Fur color and coat condition were dramatically improved in the treated females; the animals also saw improvement in gait and kyphosis, a curvature of the spine often seen in aging. The females also saw improvements in piloerection, which involves involuntary contraction of small muscles at the base of hair follicles. “That measure relates to pain and how uncomfortable the animal is,” she said. “The treated animals showed an extended ability to groom themselves.” Asadi said male mice treated with AKG were better able to maintain muscle mass as they aged, had improvements in gait and grip strength, less kyphosis and exhibited fewer tumors and better eye health.

Researchers say the consistent longevity effects of AKG in yeast, C. elegans, and now mice, show that the metabolite is affecting an evolutionary conserved aging mechanism which is likely to be translational to humans. A clinical trial of AKG involving 45 to 65 year olds is being planned at the Centre for Healthy Longevity at the National University of Singapore (NUS).  “This trial will look at the epigenetic clock as well as standard markers of aging, including pulse wave velocity, and inflammation among others,” said Buck professor Brian Kennedy, PhD, who is also the Director of the Centre at NUS and senior co-author of the study. “This opportunity will allow us to go beyond anecdotal evidence. Real clinical data will help inform physicians and consumers eager to improve health within the context of aging.”

Lithgow says basic research in the nematode worm C. elegans started AKG’s journey to human clinical trials, noting that the first evidence that AKG extended lifespan in the microscopic worm came in 2014. “We tested AKG in distinct strains of the worm in 2017 and determined that treatment hit conserved aging pathways in the animals.  The fact that it is poised to be rigorously tested in humans just a few years later shows how quickly research can move from the lab bench to the clinic. Never underestimate the knowledge that comes from studying this tiny worm.”

The Buck Institute’s Global Consortium for Reproductive Longevity & Equality Announces First Grant Recipients

The Global Consortium for Reproductive Longevity and Equality (GCRLE) at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging, made possible by the Bia-Echo Foundation, announces its inaugural recipients of its GCRLE Scholar Awards. The 22 recipients comprise a global group who share a vision of advancing research to better understand the underlying causes of female reproductive aging. Grantees were selected by a Scientific Advisory Council composed of leaders in the fields of Aging and Reproductive Biology. Grantees range from early career scientists to established scholars in the field.

“I am incredibly excited by the potential impact for the GCRLE. The ability to convene a diverse community from across institutions will positively and constructively impact this field and move science forward in a way that simply would not be possible otherwise,” says GCRLE Pilot Award recipient Iain Cheeseman, PhD, of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT. GCRLE Junior Scholar Award recipient Lynae Brayboy, MD of Charité-Universitätsmedizin, Berlin adds, “I think reproductive scientists can often exist in isolation and don’t have the unique experience GCRLE is fostering…I think it also very challenging for physician scientists to find support in the field of reproductive aging and reproductive biology in general.”

The mission of the GCRLE is to support breakthrough research on reproductive aging through funding, training, infrastructure, programs to support women in science, and a collaborative intellectual network. The GCRLE network will enable grantees and all consortium members to pursue support and collaboration across multidisciplinary approaches and institutions, thereby establishing a foundation on which to grow a diverse and sustainable research ecosystem.

Grants totaling $7.4 million will be awarded over 2 years, with flexibility in budgeting for maximum creativity and non-traditional support such as childcare. “We are thrilled to welcome these promising researchers as our very first grant recipients.” says Jennifer Garrison, PhD, GCRLE Faculty Director and Assistant Professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging. “The GCRLE unites two disciplines – reproductive science and geroscience – in an unprecedented way to investigate an area of biology that has tangible societal and clinical implications. Our goal is to foster truly bold, innovative scientists with the potential to transform the field. Beyond funding, we are building an infrastructure to grow a vibrant community and developing creative programs to break down gender barriers in scientific research careers. This is the beginning of something big!”

The GCRLE is anchored at the Buck’s Center for Female Reproductive Longevity and Equality which was established in 2018 with a gift from attorney and entrepreneur Nicole Shanahan. The Center is the first research facility in the world focused solely on reproductive equality and ovarian aging, a key determinant not only of fertility but of overall health and longevity. The GCRLE was established in 2019 with a gift from Shanahan’s Bia-Echo Foundation to build the global ecosystem for this new and exciting field of research.

2020 Inaugural GCRLE Scholars

The Senior Scholar Award supports established investigators who are thought leaders in their fields and are recognized for substantial contributions of creative and productive research.

2020 Senior Scholar Award Recipients:

Holly Ingraham, Ph.D.
University of California, San Francisco
“Identifying Novel Drivers in Central Control of Female Reproduction”

Coleen Murphy, Ph.D.
Princeton University
“Defining a “Clock” for Female Reproductive Decline”

Mary Zelinski, Ph.D.
Oregon Health & Science University
“Interventions for Ovarian Aging”

The Junior Scholar Award supports newly independent investigators with outstanding promise as they are establishing their own labs.

2020 Junior Scholar Award Recipients:

Bérénice Benayoun, Ph.D.
University of Southern California
“Establishing new age-relevant mouse models of menopause”

Lynae Brayboy, M.D.
Charité – Universitätsmedizin, Berlin
“Dysfunctional MDR-1 disrupts mitochondrial homeostasis in the oocyte”

Ingrid Fetter-Pruneda, Ph.D.
Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
“The molecular and cellular basis of high fecundity in social insects”

Amanda Kallen, M.D.
Yale University
“Ovarian Senescence as a Novel Driver of Female Reproductive Aging”

The Pilot Award is designed to foster innovative collaborative or novel research projects that have the potential for high impact and high reward at an accelerated rate.

Pilot Award Recipients:

Ivana Celic, Ph.D.
Tulane University
“LINE1 Retrotransposons in Female Reproductive Aging”

Iain Cheeseman, Ph.D.
Whitehead Institute/MIT
“Analyzing centromere rejuvenation during female reproductive aging”

Marco Conti, M.D.
University of California, San Francisco
“mRNA translation program and oocyte aging”

Arjumand Ghazi, Ph.D.
University of Pittsburgh
“Genetic & Chemical Modulation of Splicing to Combat Reproductive Senescence”

Polina Lishko, Ph.D.
University of California, Berkeley
“Endocannabinoid signaling in the mammalian ovary and reproductive longevity”

Zita Santos, Ph.D., Carlos Ribeiro, Ph.D.
Champalimaud Foundation, Portugal
“Metabolic reprogramming, dietary nutrients and food cravings in ovary aging”

Yousin Suh, Ph.D.
Columbia University
“Genetic Control of Ovarian Aging in Humans”

The Postdoctoral Scholar Award supports training imaginative junior scientists who will lead the next generation of reproductive aging researchers.

2020 Postdoctoral Scholar Award Recipients:

Cristina Quesada Candela, Ph.D.
University of Pittsburg​
“Proteasomal Targets Driving Meiotic Failure During Reproductive Aging”

Ana Milunovic Jevtic, Ph.D., D.V.M.
University of California, Berkeley
“The role of endocannabinoid hydrolase ABHD2 in the ovarian aging”

Gul Bikem Soygur Kaya, Ph.D.
University of California, San Francisco
“How duration of meiotic prophase affects development and aging of oocytes”

Min Hoo Kim, Ph.D.
University of Southern California
“Elucidating causal effects of the microbiome on reproductive aging”

Seungsoo Kim, Ph.D.
Columbia University Medical Center
“Integrative bioinformatic analysis of human ovarian aging and healthspan”

Olfat Malak, Ph.D.
Buck Institute for Research on Aging
“Role of sympathetic transmission in the regulation of ovarian aging”

Farners Amargant i Riera, Ph.D.
Northwestern University
“Targeting fibrosis and inflammation to extend reproductive longevity”

Zijing Zhang, Ph.D.
University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
“The impact of ovarian macrophage population on mouse ovarian aging”

About the Global Consortium for Reproductive Longevity and Equality

The Buck Institute, through the generous support of the Bia Echo Foundation, has launched a novel, global collaborative Consortium dedicated to facilitating and accelerating research on female reproductive longevity and equality. The end of fertility sets off a cascade of negative health effects in a woman’s body. As a society, every aspect of a woman’s life is influenced by the fact that reproductive capacity is limited — overall health, family planning, career decisions. The downstream consequences are clear, but why women undergo a precipitous decline in fertility at midlife and what sets it in motion are a mystery. Despite its profound impact on health and well-being, female reproductive aging is an understudied topic.

The Global Consortium for Reproductive Longevity and Equality (GCRLE) is advancing research to better understand the underlying causes of female reproductive aging. This has implications for everyone – we think that understanding the limits on reproductive capacity will provide important clues about aging in other tissues.  Through funding, collaboration, and innovation, we hope to accelerate the pace of discovery and inform the path to intervention. We believe we can profoundly alter the societal balance toward equality for women by defining what leads to menopause and developing interventions to slow or reverse it. Our goal is to build the field to understand the basic biological mechanisms that trigger female reproductive senescence, from the earliest stages through to menopause, and ultimately leverage this understanding to intervene and balance the scales.  Contact for more information and to find out how to join the GCRLE today!

About the Buck Institute for Research on Aging

Our success will ultimately change healthcare. At the Buck, we aim to end the threat of age-related diseases for this and future generations by bringing together the most capable and passionate scientists from a broad range of disciplines to identify and impede the ways in which we age. An independent, nonprofit institution, our goal is to increase human health span, or the healthy years of life. Globally recognized as the pioneer and leader in efforts to target aging, the number one risk factor serious diseases including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer, macular degeneration, heart disease, and diabetes, the Buck wants to help people live better longer.  Learn more at:

About the Bia-Echo Foundation

Bia-Echo Foundation is a private foundation, founded by Nicole Shanahan that aims to accelerate social change in order to establish a fair and equitable society for future generations to thrive. We invest in changemakers at the forefront of innovation who are tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges within our core areas of equality-based investment:  Reproductive Longevity & Equality, Criminal Justice Reform and Healthy and Livable Ecosystems.

Buck Institute’s Postdoc Nathan Basisty Wins a Prestigious Career-Boosting Award From the NIH

With both of his Buck mentors describing him as an “exceptional scientist” and a “generous and valuable collaborator,” postdoc Nate Basisty is poised to take a huge leap in his career, thanks to a prestigious and highly competitive Pathway to Independence Award from the National Institutes of Health.

Basisty, who played a crucial role in creating a publically-accessible database that can be used to develop clinically relevant, senescence-based biomarkers of aging, has been awarded $262,000 over two years to transition to his own independent lab.  Assuming his job search goes well, Basisty will also be cued up to apply for a major grant that would provide three years of additional funding for his research.

“I am super excited to get this grant,” said Basisty, who has been at the Buck for five years, and is mentored by faculty members Judith Campisi and Birgit Schilling along with Luigi Ferrucci, MD, the Scientific Director of the Intramural Research Program at the National Institute on Aging.  “Aging is such an important problem to tackle, and the Buck is the perfect place to do the work. I’m glad to be involved in projects that will translate our understanding of senescence into something that will help improve human health.”

The need for biomarkers

Senescent cells, which stop dividing under stress, are long-recognized drivers of multiple diseases of aging. Mouse studies have shown that targeted removal of these cells and the inflammatory factors they secrete, known as the senescence-associated secretory phenotype (SASP), has beneficial results on multiple organ systems and functions.  Success in the laboratory has given rise to companies and research projects aimed at developing either senolytics, drugs that clear senescent cells, or senomorphics, drugs that suppress the SASP. But drug development and clinical utilization require simple, reliable biomarkers to assess the abundance of senescent cells in human tissues.

“I would sit in lab meetings where people would talk about various proteins and wonder if they were part of the SASP,” said Basisty.  “Then people would have to sift through all of these research papers to try to make sense of what was going on.  Developing the interactive database, which Birgit and I had been discussing, just made sense.”

Basisty was the lead author of a study published earlier this year in PLOS Biology which highlighted the establishment of the curated database.  The paper has been widely viewed and cited by researchers around the world.   Over 1,000 SASP proteins are currently included in the database.

The NIH award is also supporting Basisty’s efforts to identify and validate markers that sit on the surface of senescent cells. “These markers are really important,” he said. “We can potentially target them with therapeutics and we can also use the markers to identify and isolate senescent cells from human tissue.” Basisty says researchers currently lack the ability to remove and study cells that become senescent in a person – the only option is to artificially induce cellular senescence in cell culture. “Studying the ‘surfaceome’ is extremely valuable,” he said. “These markers could one day allow us to see how senolytic drugs work on senescent cells taken from actual human tissues.  That’s precision medicine.”

In praise of a promising researcher

The NIH award is targeted toward “highly motivated, advanced postdoctoral research scientists.” Basisty’s Buck mentors say, in this case, the NIH chose wisely: “Nate is an exceptional scientist — and person,” said Campisi, who is a pioneer in the study of cellular senescence.  “He not only has an outstanding grasp of the power and complexities of mass spectrometry, he also has an outstanding grasp of the biology.  This is a rare and valuable combination.”

Schilling, who directs the Institute’s Proteomics and Mass Spectrometry Core, acknowledges Basisty’s work on many high-profile projects that focus on the link between aging and disease.  “Nate is a generous person and is always helpful to anybody around him scientifically or personally.  His skill sets of deep biological knowledge, understanding of mass spectrometry and computer coding allow him to tackle projects comprehensively.”

Basisty was born in Ukraine and came to this country with his parents, who were engineers, when he was two.  Growing up in the greater Seattle area, he always showed an affinity for science. His original intent to become a physician was challenged when he started working in labs and fell in love with the scientific process.  “You get to choose the question to ask and choose the experiments to answer the question. Then you get to ask the next question and constantly nurture the project forward. Being a scientist is such a cool job.”

Basisty was still in pre-med when he attended a lecture about the conserved mechanisms of aging when he was getting his BS at the University of Washington in Seattle.  “I often wondered why and how people and animals aged – then I discovered that there was a field called geroscience that actually studied it.  I was hooked.  That lecture definitely factored into my decision to become a scientist.”

A lesson for all of us – don’t be afraid to ask

The NIH award requires Basisty to be mentored over the course of his grant award.  Campisi and Schilling were obvious choices – he works with them daily at the Buck.  Reaching out to the NIA’s Ferrucci, who runs The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, America’s longest-running scientific study of human aging, upped the ante, even though Ferrucci was already a co-author of the PLOS Biology study.  “Initially I was afraid to ask because everyone, including Dr. Ferrucci, who is a leader in his field, is clearly very busy. But once I did it, he was so friendly, enthusiastic and helpful.  There really is a desire to keep the science moving forward.”

The Buck Institute Mourns the Passing of Paul F. Glenn

Paul F. Glenn, a successful commodity trader whose philanthropy helped fuel many careers and subsequent discoveries in research on aging, died on September 29th, 2020, at the age of 89.  The Glenn Foundation has invested more than $100 million in the basic biology of aging at research institutes around the country.  There are Paul F. Glenn Centers for the Biology of Aging Research at the Buck Institute, Harvard, Stanford, MIT, the Salk Institute, the Mayo Clinic, Princeton, Einstein College of Medicine and the University of Michigan.

Glenn was one of the founding trustees of the Buck Institute, the first independent research institution in the world focused solely on the biology of aging. His fellow founding trustee, Dr. Jack Rowe, a former professor at Harvard Medical School who later served as Chairman and CEO of Aetna, remembers Glenn for his keen intellect and, especially for a non-scientist, his deep understanding of geroscience. “Paul had an amazing capacity to recognize quality in research and talent in individuals, capabilities that surely helped him in his career as a successful commodities trader.”

An obituary posted on the Glenn Foundation website states that Glenn’s experience as an only grandson of aging grandparents formed the basics of his future philanthropic focus. Established in 1965, when many still dismissed research on aging as pseudoscience,  the organization’s mission is to extend the healthy years of life through research on the mechanisms of biology that govern normal human development and its related physiological decline, with the objective of translating research into interventions that will extend healthspan with lifespan. 

“Paul was a true champion of the basic research that brought our field into the mainstream,” said Eric Verdin, MD, President and CEO of the Buck Institute. “The fact that we are moving discoveries from the lab to the clinic can be traced, in many instances, back to his vision and generosity. We are grateful for his life and his support and will continue to work toward fulfilling the mission of his foundation.”

Glenn endowed his Foundation to carry on its mission in perpetuity.   He was born and raised in Sharon, Pennsylvania and was a graduate of Princeton and Harvard Law School.  He was the youngest member of the American Gerontological Society when he joined. Glenn also served on the Advisory Council of the National Institute on Aging, and was a founding member of the Board of Directors of the American Aging Association and the American Federation for Aging Research.