Sci. Aging Knowl. Environ., 31 July 2002
Vol. 2002, Issue 30, p. nw103
[DOI: 10.1126/sageke.2002.30.nw103]


Lone Star Longevity

University of Texas aging center rides into town

R. John Davenport;2002/30/nw103

Abstract: Ten-gallon hats, oil rigs, country music--and the genetics of growing old. Officials at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio (UTHSCSA) hope to add aging-related research to the list of things synonymous with Texas. In February, the university will break ground on the Sam and Ann Barshop Center for Longevity and Aging Studies, the United States' second institute devoted to investigating the basic biology of aging.

The idea for the center originated in 1997, when the university's board of regents decided to expand the school's Texas Research Park, 32 kilometers from the main campus. "Aging was on everyone's list," says UTHSCSA physiologist Arlan Richardson, whom administrators selected to develop the center's research program. He and his colleagues chose to focus on genetics because of UTHSCSA's existing expertise and because "in the next 10 years the major breakthroughs will probably be in this area," Richardson says.

After determining the scientific emphasis, the university sought funding to build the center's home. The Brown Foundation of Houston provided $6 million of initial funding. Sam Barshop, a San Antonio businessman and former member of the UTHSCSA board of regents, and his wife donated $4 million for the $22 million project. "Everybody's getting older," says Barshop, and advances from research on aging "will have an enormous impact on the American public and save the government lots and lots of money." Barshop, who led the fundraising effort, will now devote his energy to establishing an endowment to fund professorships at the center.

The center will house about 30 faculty members in four programs: cellular aging, invertebrate aging, rodent models, and human genetics. Several scientists have already moved to San Antonio to work there. Molecular biophysicist James Smith migrated west from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston in summer 2001 to lead the Cellular Aging Program. Geneticist Jan Vijg relinquished a professorship at Harvard in 1998 to come to San Antonio; he now directs the burgeoning Genetics of Human Aging Program, which, along with the rest of the center, occupies temporary space in the research park. The center was still in the planning stages at the time, but "it was one of the reasons I thought San Antonio was going to be a major center in aging and one of the reasons I came here," says Vijg.

UTHSCSA already boasts 150 faculty members who focus on aging, but they are scattered around the campus. The Barshop Center will bring a core group of researchers into one building. "Scientists studying invertebrates, rodents, and humans will be all together and talking with each other," says Richardson. "The hope is that cross-fertilization and interaction between researchers will be even greater." Although the advantages of having basic researchers who concentrate on aging in the same building are "obvious," according to Vijg, that potential hasn't been fully realized. The Barshop Center and the Buck Institute in Novato, California (see "Don't Pass the Buck"), which opened its doors in 1999, are the only research institutes in the United States that concentrate on the basic science of aging. Unlike investigators at the Buck Institute, however, Barshop Center researchers will maintain close ties to university departments. With its dedicated facilities and academic connections, the new center could spur Texas researchers to cook up some hot aging results in the coming years.

--R. John Davenport

Further Reading

J. R. Smith, M. C. Price, A. Richardson, The Sam and Ann Barshop Center for Longevity and Aging Studies: The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. Exp. Gerontol., 24 July 2002 [e-pub ahead of print]. [Journal Home Page] [Until paper appears in print, see "Articles in press."]

Citation: R. J. Davenport, Lone Star Longevity. Science's SAGE KE (31 July 2002),;2002/30/nw103

Science of Aging Knowledge Environment. ISSN 1539-6150