Rachel Brem, PhD, Joins Buck Institute Faculty

Associate Professor studies naturally-occurring genetic variations that impact characteristics of aging

March 6, 2014 Novato, CA Rachel Brem, PhD, has joined the faculty of the Buck Institute for Research on Aging as an Associate Professor. Her work, focused on discovering and understanding naturally-occurring genetic variations that impact characteristics of aging, brings a new skill set that is already broadening overall research at the Institute.

Dr. Brem, who was an Assistant Professor at the University of California Berkeley, uses a combination of high-throughput-screens and computer analysis to look at “haystacks” of genomic information from individuals within a particular species to see if there are any interesting “needles” that impact the aging process or a particular age-associated disease. The aim of this unbiased approach is to identify new genes and, perhaps more importantly, to understand the molecular processes that cause individuals to have differing responses to aging or a disease process.

The Brem lab relocated from Berkeley this January and her group has already embarked on projects with three labs working on specific aspects of aging or age-related disease. Dr. Brem’s initial collaboration with faculty Pankaj Kapahi, PhD, is a perfect example of how her lab will contribute to the synergy that is a hallmark of the Buck’s research environment. Dietary restriction is a main interest in the Kapahi lab. Working with specific strains of fruit flies, researchers use genetics and compound screenings to understand how the healthspan-extending benefits of dietary restriction might translate to humans. Dr. Brem is helping the lab dramatically broaden its scope. She is screening a large population of wild type fruit flies (that come from a farmer’s market in North Carolina) to discover additional genes or pathways that are involved in dietary restriction. “The work is very exciting,” says Kapahi, who says some of the natural occurring variants related to dietary restriction double the lifespan of the fly, while others are having no effect. “Ultimately we want to understand why dietary restriction or related therapies work in some people and not in others. This is the way to do it – Rachel is having a huge impact on our work. “

Dr. Brem received her PhD from the University of California, San Francisco in Biophysics. She completed her postdoctoral training at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute before going to UC Berkeley. Among many awards, she was named an Ellison Medical Foundation New Scholar in Aging and received a Burroughs-Wellcome Career Award at the Scientific Interface.

Dr. Brem got introduced to the Buck two years ago via a collaboration with President and CEO Brian Kennedy. Her Berkeley lab did a large scale screen to identify differences in how proteins are produced across an entire genome in a long-lived strain of single-celled yeast, a model system for aging biology. “I really enjoyed working with Brian, he is a fantastic scientist,” said Brem. “And then I had an opportunity to make significant contributions to the focused research at the Buck. I am like a kid in a candy store – it’s really great to be at the Institute.”

About the Buck Institute for Research on Aging
The Buck Institute is the first freestanding institute in the United States that is devoted solely to basic research on aging and age-associated disease. The Institute is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to extending the healthspan, the healthy years of each individual’s life. Buck Institute scientists work in an innovative, interdisciplinary setting to understand the mechanisms of aging and to discover new ways of detecting, preventing and treating conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, macular degeneration, osteoporosis and stroke.  For more information: www.thebuck.org.

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