June 25, 2009

New grant explores link between diet and aging

Shu-Bing Qian, assistant professor of nutritional sciences, has received the Ellison Medical Foundation's New Scholar Award for his work on how diet affects the aging process at the molecular level.

Qian will receive $400,000 over four years from the Ellison Medical Foundation to investigate how nutrient signaling and stress pathways are related. The foundation supports basic biological research in aging relevant to understanding aging processes and age-related diseases.

Qian studies the relationship between a cell's ability to sense the existence of nutrients and its ability to regulate the protein products.

When nutrients from food are available, they signal healthy cells to ramp up production of proteins needed in the body. But as cells manufacture more proteins than they need, some problems occur. For example, the buildup of damaged proteins incites a stress response from the cell, which ultimately leads to aging.

"It's our dream to determine how the cells sense the nutrients available and manipulate this process so it doesn't have a negative impact on the cell's stress response," he said. Understanding these processes is also critical to understanding many diseases related to aging, including diabetes, cancer and cognitive impairments, he added.

Sheri Hall is assistant director of communications at the College of Human Ecology.