Markus Seeliger, Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacological Sciences, has received the 2010 New Scholar Award from the Ellison Medical Foundation, a non-profit corporation supporting basic biomedical research on aging relevant to understanding lifespan development processes and age-related diseases and disabilities. Seeliger is the first Stony Brook professor to win this award, which includes a $100,000 per-year grant for four years.
The Foundation’s New Scholar Awards recognize top early-career investigators in aging research. The program supports independent investigators in the first three years after their postdoctoral training. This year, 25 investigators were selected nationally. Seeliger, who received his doctorate in chemistry from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom in 2003, came to Stony Brook in October 2009.
“By being selected for this very competitive award and grant in aging research, Dr. Seeliger illustrates the promise that his research holds in finding ways scientists can better understand the aging process, and its relation to disease,” said Michael A. Frohman, Chair of Pharmacological Sciences.
“Aging is associated with an increased risk for cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and other illnesses,” said Seeliger. “Many of these conditions are often caused by a perturbation of the fine balance between protein synthesis and other related processes, such as folding, localization, activity, and turnover. My research centers on protein turnover via the ubiquitin-proteasome system, a process intimately involved in disease development.”
Controlled protein turnover via the ubiquitin-proteasome system prevents accumulation of “aged” proteins. Dysregulation of the system ultimately leads to perturbation of protein levels, causing disease.
Seeliger explains that while many functions of this system have been identified, there are still many questions, such as: What exact proteins are affected by the ubiquitin system? How do the functions of the system change with age? Can pharmaceuticals be developed to target specific functions of the system to assist it in operating normally?
Seeliger’s research approach involves a proposal to engineer a mutant ubiquitin that will enable him and colleagues to identify targets of the ubiquitin system, monitor changes in the target spectrum during aging, and develop specific inhibitors of components of the ubiquitin system.
Research in aging will continue to become important to the world population. The Ellison Medical Foundation estimates that by the year 2025, 1.2 billion people will be age 60 or older. Through the Aging Program, the Foundation hopes that research leads to improvements in health care and disease prevention that will dramatically improve the quality of life and potentially create an economic benefit for millions of older adults worldwide.