Khyobeni Mozhui,PhD, an assistant professor in the Departments of Preventive Medicine and Genetics, Genomics and Informatics in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has received a $418,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the epigenetics of aging. The two-year award will support the project, titled “DNA Methylation and Gene Expression Study of Aging and Lifespan Differences.”
Dr. Mozhui is collaborating with UTHSC’s Megan Mulligan, PhD, and Karolina Aberg, PhD, from Virginia Commonwealth University on this research study. Their team will use the vast biobanked tissue resource developed by Robert Williams, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Genetics, Genomics and Informatics at UTHSC.
With this project, Dr. Mozhui and her team aim to gain a more comprehensive understanding of the molecular basis of aging. If successful, this project could better strategies for healthy aging, and for enhancing vigor and wellness during old age.
“Aging can be thought of as a form of scheduled self-destruction that ensures timely demise of an individual,” Dr. Mozhui said. “For now, we don’t have a comprehensive explanation as to why multi-cellular organisms like us have a predefined period of viability before the cellular degeneration and aging process.”
Aging in a complex biological process that results in increased vulnerability to numerous diseases and loss of health and vigor. There is no definite answer as to why living organisms age. While human life expectancy has increased, this increase in lifespan is not necessarily accompanied by an increase in “health span” and the burden of disease is very high among the elderly.
An important aspect of aging is the epigenetic modifications that occur on the DNA. In particular, the research will focus on DNA methylation, an epigenetic modification that is considered to be a biomarker of biological age and possibly predictive of health and life expectancy.
“Work in my lab has shown that specific DNA methylation changes that occur during aging are highly conserved and consistent in both mice and humans and could represent a fundamental feature of molecular aging in mammals.,” Dr. Mozhui said. “The present study will evaluate the time dynamics in DNA methylation and gene expression, and examine whether these changes are associated with lifespan and aging rate. Ultimately, our goal is not so much to delay or reverse aging, but to understand how we can maintain optimal health as we advance in age.”