Aging is the main risk factor for diseases, including neurodegenerative and cardiovascular diseases. In many cases, the effect of aging on different organs is synchronized. Interestingly, aging can be slowed or even reversed by specific interventions, including diet. There also exist suspended animation states—for example, hibernation or diapause—that synchronously pause organ deterioration. But the mechanisms that synchronize organs during aging are unknown. The Organ Synchronization in Aging and Suspended Animation project aims to discover how organs in the body are synchronized during aging.
One of the greatest challenges in studying aging is the long lifespan and expensive nature of traditional experimental model organisms. The Brunet lab has thus developed a powerful platform of genome editing tools in a new model for aging research, the African killifish, a vertebrate with a naturally compressed lifespan of only four to six months. Importantly, the killifish recapitulates typical age-dependent phenotypes and pathologies, notably neurodegeneration with age. The killifish also has a suspended animation state in embryos called diapause, which preserves fully formed organs for long periods of time.
The scalable platform developed by the Brunet lab will be used in killifish to understand the mechanisms underlying synchronization between different organs and how this is affected during aging and suspended animation. The Brunet lab is particularly interested in the role of the specific organs (for example, the brain) as “control centers” for other organs. This knowledge could be game changing for the discovery of key organ–organ communication systems.
Combining the new model organism, unbiased genomics approaches and the power of artificial intelligence, the research project is an innovative investigation into aging and suspended animation. This research has important implications for preserving tissues for long periods of time and countering age-related diseases.
The Organ Synchronization in Aging and Suspended Animation project is being led by Anne Brunet at Stanford University (US).
Michele and Timothy Barakett Professor of Genetics