By Will Sansom
One of the world’s premier aging research centers—the Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies at the Health Science Center— is getting a multimillion-dollar boost from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to expand studies on aging and how to improve health throughout life, leaders announced today.
The Barshop Institute is named in honor of the late businessman and philanthropist Sam Barshop and his wife, Ann. Today Mrs. Barshop and their living children, Bruce and Jamie, continue in their support of their family’s namesake institute.
Two five-year NIA center grants totaling $7 million, coupled with two five-year center grants awarded in 2014 that provide $15 million, will ensure that the research geared toward enhancing how people age will expand over the next several years, said Barshop Institute Director Nicolas Musi, M.D., a physician-scientist in the areas of aging and metabolic disease who is a professor in the School of Medicine at the Health Science Center.
One new NIA award establishes the Claude D. Pepper Older American Independence Center at the Barshop Institute. This center enables translation of research into practical applications in the lives of older Americans.
The other NIA grant continues the Nathan Shock Center of Excellence in the Biology of Aging, which provides core services and support for aging research and education.
In 1995 the Barshop Institute became one of a handful of vanguard centers in the country to have a Shock Center, and it has maintained the designation ever since. “A very small number of these centers have been able to secure the NIA Shock Center funding,” Dr. Musi said. “In the world of aging research, it is the equivalent of a National Cancer Institute Cancer Center designation in terms of stature.”
The NIA grant reviewers gave this year’s Shock Center application a perfect score, which is highly unusual. “It demonstrates that our plans are outstanding, and that our peers consider the members of the institute and our program to be truly exceptional,” Dr. Musi said.
This year, for the first time, the Barshop Institute successfully competed for a Pepper Center. The Pepper Centers, named for Claude Pepper, the longtime U.S. senator and representative from Florida, are centers of excellence that increase scientific knowledge and lead to better ways to maintain or restore independence in older persons.
Both awards will support Barshop Institute researchers as they move the science of healthy aging from the idea stage to preclinical and animal studies, and then into proving that an intervention works in humans. “With the Pepper Center award from the NIA, we join few places in the country that are able to both investigate the aging process and move findings into the clinic,” Dr. Musi said.
The Geriatric Research, Education and Clinical Center (GRECC) at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System is a designation renewed in 2014 that continues to enhance aging and longevity research. The Barshop Institute is also one of only three centers in the NIA Interventions Testing Program (ITP) and last year received funding through 2019. The Barshop site is directed by Randy Strong, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology in the School of Medicine and senior research career scientist at the South Texas Veterans Health Care System. The ITP centers investigate treatments that have the potential to extend life span and delay disease and dysfunction in mice.
The Barshop Institute is now the only aging-intensive research institute in the country to have the following four designations: two NIA-funded centers (Nathan Shock and Claude D. Pepper), a testing site of the NIA-sponsored Interventions Testing Program, and a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs GRECC. It is also the only institute in the U.S. this year to receive both the Nathan Shock and Claude Pepper awards.
The Nathan Shock and Claude Pepper center successes herald a new and exciting era for the Barshop Institute. “Congratulations to Dr. Nicolas Musi and his team of scientists for having the productivity and reputation to bring this to fruition in South Texas,” said William L. Henrich, M.D., MACP, president of the UT Health Science Center.
Dr. Musi thanked the leadership of the Health Science Center, including Dr. Henrich and Francisco González-Scarano, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs, for bolstering the Barshop Institute with $2.1 million over the next five years.
“The support of the institution for this center is probably unparalleled,” Dr. Musi said. “I’m sure it stands out when our applications compete with other applications, based on the level of institutional commitments. It’s like the bedrock under our feet. It gives San Antonio leverage.”