PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — The Brown University Biology of Aging Initiative asks “Why do we age and can we do anything about it?” The question is simple to ask and likely crosses the minds of billions, but the answers are not so easy to find. Biochemist Louis Lapierre joined the initiative team in January 2015 to help.
For his part, Lapierre looks within the cell at the process of autophagy, in which cells engage in a process of renewal. Damaged macromolecules, such as lipids or fats, are broken down via autophagy for reuse or for communication by signaling. In particular Lapierre looks at how cells integrate metabolism and signaling to maintain autophagy and promote the organism’s health.
Lapierre studied lipoprotein metabolism to earn his Ph.D. in biochemistry from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He then pursued a postdoctoral position at the Del E. Webb Centerfor Neuroscience, Aging, and Stem Cell Research at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. His work expanded scientists’ understanding of the longevity-related role and regulation of autophagy.
It turns out that autophagy is required for lifespan extension in multiple longevity models. Lapierre’s model of choice is the nematode C. elegans, which has a surprising amount in common with people including closely related proteins for fat transport that also affect autophagy.
Lapierre obtained a “Pathway to Independence” Award from the National Institute on Aging, which provides funds to establish an independent laboratory. Shortly after coming to Brown as an assistant professor in Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry, he also earned a two-year grant from the American Federation for Aging Research for his work. By the end of 2015 his lab had published its first paper at Brown. The study, published in the journal Autophagy, showed that autophagy and longevity are modulated by the synthesis of lipoproteins in worms and mice.
“Since we see in the worm that we can extend life span by silencing this protein, we reason that that it could be a promising strategy to prevent age-related diseases in humans,” Lapierre said.
In its continuing work at Brown, the Lapierre laboratory will seek an answer to the second half of the Biology of Aging Initiative’s question: Can we do anything about aging?