UC Santa Barbara Opens Aging and Longevity Research Center

By Sonia Fernandez
Santa Barbara, CA

A few years ago, a Prudential billboard declared “The First Person to Live to 150 is Alive Today.” Given recent breakthroughs in the science of aging and longevity, these words are likely to be more than an advertising pitch for retirement savings. A major new research center at UC Santa Barbara, the Center for Aging and Longevity Studies (CALS), which will be showcased to the public in April, is working to make this alluring message a reality.

This inauguration of California’s newest research center devoted to the science of aging and longevity was spurred by extraordinary advances in the biology of aging and the discovery that its progression can be slowed, resulting in dramatic delay in age-dependent health decline. These breakthroughs, including those from CALS laboratories, mean that we may soon be able to extend the period of youthful vibrancy quite substantially.

Soaring medical costs are disproportionately attributable to age-related illness. “A major driver of biological research in CALS is understanding how to stretch human healthspan, the period of life in which we abound with vitality,” noted Joel Rothman, the director of CALS and a distinguished professor of molecular and cell biology. “It is likely that a large number of age-related diseases could simultaneously be reduced by a single intervention: simply slowing the biological aging clock.”

Even more boldly, CALS scientists are exploring the possibility of actually reversing aspects of the aging process. Indeed, the basis for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tale of Benjamin Button, who becomes progressively younger as the years go by, may not turn out to be a concept of pure fiction. Rather, Rothman cites recent findings, including by CALS researchers, that “raise the possibility not only of extending, but perhaps reclaiming, the vigor of youth after it has slipped away.”

These remarkable advances, and the public launch of CALS, will be celebrated at a special grand opening event Thursday, April 6, on the campus of the Music Academy, featuring a lecture by one of the world’s leading experts in aging and longevity research, Cynthia Kenyon, Vice President of Aging Research at Google’s Calico Life Sciences, LLC. Kenyon’s research led to the stunning discovery that our genes drive the speed of the biological aging clock and that the rate of aging can be slowed, resulting in pronounced extension of the youthful phase of life. The event will include a musical interlude introduced by Maestro Nir Kabaretti, music and artistic director of the Santa Barbara Symphony and performed by a quartet of musicians from the symphony.

As California’s newest center devoted to aging and longevity research, CALS brings together 30 UCSB faculty and over 300 researchers from 15 departments and units that reach across biology, technology, psychology, communication, and sociology. CALS researchers hold a personal interest in this rapidly advancing science, said Rothman, adding that “as my eligibility for senior discounts has expanded, so has my stake in slowing the pace at which the inevitable depredations of age approach.”

Nicole Alea Albada, CALS Director of Education and Outreach, notes that the center promotes education in the issues of aging and longevity by “cultivating the next generation of scientists, entrepreneurs, and healthcare professionals both through development of new courses and research experiences.”

CALS also provides a vital focal point for connections with the wider community. “The Center is a resource for the region on all things relating to the effects of aging on our community members and its impact on society overall,” Albada explained. This includes, for example, a year-long public lecture series, “Aging in America,” coinciding with the launch of CALS.

Given accelerating research discoveries from CALS and the worldwide scientific community, Rothman said, “it is probably time to start thinking about the savings that you’ll need for a much longer retirement than you may have once planned.”

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