Impact Circle

Want to disrupt the scientific status-quo? Add a decade to the human healthspan or even save lives down the line?

Join us for the Buck Impact Circle 2021.

Now in its ninth year, the Impact Circle provides a “behind the scenes” view of Buck science  for a unique and engaging experience for participating donors. Our scientists tell us that it is like attending a party, and they enjoy the experience of sharing their work with you!

It is an exciting opportunity for supporters to immerse themselves in the cutting-edge research underway at the Institute.  Each year, Impact Circle members are presented with pitches from one or more labs for “Blue Sky” projects that require seed funding to get off the ground.  Typically, these are collaborations among multiple faculty and fellows that are at too early a stage to qualify for a government grant.


Donors make an investment of $5,000 to become Impact Circle Members. That investment goes toward a high impact project with the potential to yield real results. Scientists, incentivized by this support, dig deep for their most novel, clear blue-sky idea that is far too risky for institutional funders like the National Institutes of Health to fund. They gather their lab members to distill the science behind those ideas into accessible and exciting projects for Circle Members.

If you have a Donor Advised Fund (DAF), recommending a grant to the Impact Circle is a great way to participate. Click here to find out more.

2021 Impact Circle

In 2021, our focus will be on brain health and the role proteins play in Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) and dementia, and will include partnering with two up and coming scientists at the Buck.  The first event will explore presentations from the investigators and special guests.  Members then meet again in the Fall 2021 for an update on the funded project.  Join us on this exciting adventure in science and help make an impact on our health! As an Impact Circle Member, you will be continually apprised of the winner’s progress for years to come through email updates and high-touch events.

April 6, 2021
Project Presentations Virtual Event      

REGISTER to attend the 2021 Impact Circle.


Weathering the Storm: protecting against an out of control immune system

The 2020 Impact Circle presented a unique opportunity to address our most urgent global concern.  Members supported a high impact project specifically designed to utilize our Institute’s long standing age related research and innovative collaborative model to combat COVID-19.

The Concern:

COVID-19 has hit our most vulnerable populations, especially our aged population, with greater severity.  The elderly are vulnerable to the hyper-activity of inflammation producing immune cells creating a “cytokine storm” which can result in devastating multi-organ failure.

Buck Collaborators:

Exceptional expertise in bridging Artificial Intelligence, Immunology and Inflammation to discover new treatments now and in the future.

Dan Winer, MD, Associate Professor:

“The Immune system likely plays a role in nearly every disease, including pathogens like SARS-CoV2, and is the key to future vaccine development.”




David Furman, PhD, Associate Professor:

“The role of the immune system in the protection against infections has been recognized for over a hundred years.  However, only recently has it become apparent that inflammatory components of the immune system are elevated in aged individuals and places them at greater risk for COVID-19.”




Using Artificial Intelligence (AI) Methods with blood samples from one thousand human beings of various ages, we have developed profiles of cytokine production (hyper-activity of inflammation) and response that provide a snapshot of immune system functioning in the elderly.  The investigators are using a novel approach utilizing information gleaned from AI to test promising compounds in animal models.  The impact of this collaborative research has the potential to be a game-changer in developing therapeutics and interventions for not only COVID-19, but other infections now and in the future. 

What is the impact of the Impact Circle? Our donors come back, year after year, anxious to learn and participate. And our scientists are raring to go every year because, it turns out that the Impact Circle has provided a lot of bang for the Buck scientist.

Up-ending the Scientific Status Quo

The first winners of the Impact Circle, Judy Campisi and Julie Andersen, used their funding to carve out entirely new scientific territory. Campisi is the world’s leading authority on cellular senescence – the process by which cells cease to divide, then accumulate and secrete toxins – and its role in aging. Yet she had never considered that cellular senescence might happen in the brain because most neurons do not divide to begin with. Andersen, a neuroscientist renowned for her expertise in Parkinson’s disease (PD), proposed that they investigate whether cellular senescence occurs in the brain and, if so, whether it is linked to PD.


“We had submitted grants on the topic to the NIH and got rejected again and again,” recalls Andersen. “I assume it was because people in the aging field knew of cellular senescence, but people in neuroscience had no idea what it was.” Now they do, thanks, in part, to the Impact Circle. Andersen and Campisi were able to initiate experiments with the money from the Impact Circle. The results from those experiments led to more funding from the NIH and then from the Michael J. Fox Foundation. “Basically, all that work ended up in Cell Reports in January of 2018 as the first paper to show that if you knocked out senescent cells in the brain, it prevented an age-related neurodegenerative disease – Parkinson’s,” says Andersen.

The Gift That Goes on Giving

Likewise, Pankaj Kapahi was recently awarded a National Institutes of Health (NIH) RO1 grant, one of the institute’s largest and most prestigious, for a study that combines all three of his Circle projects. With the grant, Kapahi is exploring why people with diabetes are at two times the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. He hypothesizes that the accumulation of advance glycation end products (AGEs) – toxic byproducts of glucose metabolism that are more prevalent in people with diabetes – are to blame for the neurodegeneration that develops.

“The Circle supported the preliminary work it took to get NIH funding,” says Kapahi. “Our NIH grant wouldn’t have been possible without it.”  Circle funding has had a fundamental impact on his career. “The Impact Circle pushed my lab in a whole new direction,” adds Kapahi. Prior to his wins, his lab was focused primarily on dietary restriction. “This seed funding has helped us create more far-reaching connections with diseases like Parkinson’s,” he says.

Building Community

Our Impact Circle, like all circles, is ongoing. Winners continually apprise Circle Members of their progress. Indeed, six months after Campisi and Andersen won, they got together with Circle members to celebrate and share their work. “It’s so nice to be able to interact with people on a personal level about your work,” says Andersen. “The Circle Members have been so supportive and it is really so nice knowing that they believe in us.”


Previous Winners:

2014  Judy Campisi and Julie Andersen
2015  Dale Bredesen and Brian Kennedy
2016  Julie Andersen and Pankaj Kapahi
2017  Pankaj Kapahi and John Newman
2017 Jennifer Garrison and Birgit Schilling
2018 Pankaj Kapahi and Neelanjan Bose
2019  Simon Melov and Nicolas Martin
2020 Dan Winer and David Furman

Blood brain barrier: The blood–brain barrier is a highly selective semipermeable border of endothelial cells that prevents toxins in the circulating blood from crossing into brain.


Glycation (sometimes called non-enzymatic glycosylation) is the attachment of a sugar to a protein or lipid. Typical sugars that participate in glycation are glucose, fructose, or their derivatives. Glycation is a biomarker for diabetes and is implicated in some diseases and in aging.


Human induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells: are derived from skin or blood cells that have been reprogrammed back into an embryonic-like, undifferentiated state that enables the development of any type of human cell needed for therapeutic purposes. Shinya Yamanaka of the Gladstone Institute and UCSF, received a Nobel for discovering them. They have transformed biological research. iPS cells can be developed into organoids, which are miniaturized and simplified version of an organ produced in vitro in three dimensions that show realistic micro-anatomy. Organoids made from human tissues allow scientists to study the effectiveness of novel therapeutics in a safe, inobtrusive and precise way.


Intergenerational – existing or occurring between generations. Example: Research has shown the impact of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – chemicals that were used in electrical equipment starting in the 1920’s – across generations. Although they have been phased out of production, PCBs are still being released into the environment from preexisting applications and improper disposal of products that contain them. Because of their chemical stability and transportability, they accumulate in the food chain, enter our food supply, and pass from mother to infant in utero and during breastfeeding, with potentially harmful effects on the endocrine, immune, nervous, and reproductive systems.


Synapse the space between two neurons where chemical substances are retained to transfer electrical signals from one neuron to another. 


T-cells – is an immune cell, made in the bone marrow, that attacks virus-infected cells, foreign cells and cancer cells. The T in T-cells stands for thymus, an organ at the front of the trachea, where T-cells mature.


Tauis a protein shaped like a tube that transports nutrients from one nerve cell to another. Damaged and misshapen tau are found in multiple forms of brain disease, including Alzheimer’s disease, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Pick disease, frontotemporal dementia with parkinsonism-17, progressive supranuclear Palsy, and corticobasal degeneration.

Lisa Palma
Director, Office of Philanthropy

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