As you read these words, I will be finishing my first official year as Dean of Science at MIT. In my new role, I have been so fortunate to meet many of the extraordinary scientists in the School of Science and to experience firsthand their passion for their work. Last fall, I was particularly struck by a meeting with Li-Huei Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, and her work on Alzheimer’s disease. Surprisingly little progress has been made thus far on treating this terrible affliction, but tools have recently become available that may lead to significant advances. The annual cost of caring for people with dementia – now estimated at over $200 billion nationally and over $600 billion worldwide – is growing faster than the number of sufferers. It threatens to bankrupt our healthcare systems. We need a War on Alzheimer’s, and I believe that MIT can play a leading role by expanding our research efforts in this area.
A few months and two scientific workshops later, the Aging Brain Effort was born. Spearheaded by Professor Tsai, and bringing together researchers and clinicians from all over MIT as well as the greater Boston clinical centers, this effort will consolidate and organize our efforts to understand what causes some people to age with dementia and some people to age without. I am greatly excited that so many MIT researchers are eager to join this effort, which you can read about in this issue. Most of all, I hope those of you who are as concerned as I am will join this effort by providing the resources needed to really make headway in our understanding of AD and other dementias.
Aging research isn’t new to MIT. The Paul E. Glenn Laboratory for the Science of Aging has been working on aging for many years. In fact, in this issue you can read how Christin Glorioso, a postdoc in the laboratory of Professor Lenny Guarente, believes that with lifespan-extending genetic and environmental interventions, scientists can extend life and reduce the rate of dementia. Already, scientists have created worms that live up to six times longer than worms without interventions and mice that can live 50% longer.
As I mentioned in the last newsletter, MIT life scientists have played in instrumental role in the biotech explosion in Kendall Square. Paul Schimmel Ph.D. ’67 (VII) probably understands this better than anyone: For 30 years he was a member of the Biology faculty, and together with former students and colleagues he founded many of the biotech companies found in Kendall Square. I am absolutely delighted and so thankful that Paul has agreed to work closely with Department Head Alan Grossman to raise funds to endow the graduate program for biology. He and his wife, Cleo, have been longtime supporters of MIT and wonderful friends to the School of Science.
This issue is filled with inspiring stories about new companies being started by our students, exciting techniques for visualizing fine brain structures by our faculty, and a satellite that, when it launches in 2017, will monitor over 200,000 stars in search of exoplanets capable of supporting life. What an incredible time to be doing science. As always, I would love to know your thoughts. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.