The study of human aging requires an implementation of translational approaches which many students are simply not exposed to in their general education. Current educational paradigms present an opportunity to easily and inexpensively train students in these methods and cultivate interest in aging research. These assumptions have led to the formation of SENS Foundation's Academic Initiative (SENSFAI), a student-focused research and development program designed to recruit talented student scientists into the broad field of longevity science with a specific focus on the SENS engineering platform. Since the launch of its pilot studies in the fall of 2008, SENSFAI has demonstrated its potential as a viable research entity. Growing from a humble beginning of only three volunteer mentors and five students, the program has expanded to its present base of over 50 students and volunteers operating in nine countries worldwide, and offers a novel approach for promoting student excellence in academia.
As is true of any field of human endeavor, even very complex ones, a great deal of the labor in life science research does not require highly experienced and expensive staff. Advanced students are knowledgeable and smart enough to get the job done, for example. In addition, work like testing many different bacterial enzymes against their ability to break down unwanted biochemicals that build up with aging, or building computer models to calculate expected behavior in a specific biological system, can be made faster by allowing many different people to work in parallel - exactly the situation where pulling in more capable but less experienced people from academia is sensible.
In any case, the SENS Foundation is profiling one of the SENSFAI student researchers in their news section:
Could you briefly describe your current research efforts for SENSFAI and how they support the core mission of the SENS Foundation?
My current research efforts is on the characterization of the roles of Nitric Oxide (NO) in apoptosis and apoptotic-like cell death pathways in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii, a green algae. We hope to be able to determine the levels of NO and mechanism of induction of cell death in this organism. There have been numerous characterized mechanisms of NO's mediation and also, interestingly, inhibition of apoptosis in animal cells, and our results could provide more insight into these emerging mechanisms such that at the long run, we would be able to understand how NO can be utilized therapeutically to enhance the quality of human life.
Do you think you involvement with SENSFAI will influence your future career? How so?
Absolutely. My involvement with SENSFAI has led me into the path of pursuing an MD/PhD degree and thus perpetuating aging research.
Everyone wins: the SENS Foundation moves ahead with its research, and the students gain experience and connections that cannot be obtained through a standard university curriculum.