Newswise — San Antonio, Texas (November 5, 2020) – The Southwest National Primate Research Center (SNPRC) at Texas Biomedical Research Institute and the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio received a $1.3 million collaborative grant to continue the San Antonio Marmoset Aging Program (SA MAP) and further define the hallmarks of aging in a nonhuman primate (monkey) model. Developing the marmoset model will allow for eventual testing of interventions in additional model systems that could slow or change age-related decline in humans.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) National Institute on Aging awarded the grant to develop new tools for the characterization of aging to Corinna Ross, Ph.D., Associate Professor at Texas Biomed and Associate Director of Research at the Southwest National Primate Research Center, and Adam Salmon, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Barshop Institute, UT Health San Antonio. Drs. Ross and Salmon will co-lead the team of scientists within SA MAP, leveraging their expertise and resources to gain knowledge behind the molecular and physiological functions behind age-related diseases.

“SA MAP has developed several tools over the years to characterize aging in marmosets” explained Dr. Ross. “While the nine hallmarks of aging have been identified, we only have a few tools to measure these hallmarks. With this study, we hope to pinpoint biomarkers of cellular aging in marmosets so that these biomarkers can eventually serve as targets for interventions, and marmosets can become an effective model for testing these interventions.”

Marmoset models are widely used in biomedical research but are most commonly used in aging studies partly due to their small size and relatively short life span of 20 years. As a non-human primate, marmosets closely resemble humans genetically, enabling them to serve as a valuable tool to test pharmacological or drug interventions.

To date, laboratory rodents and invertebrates have largely been the models to study the hallmarks of aging. However, marmosets display a wide spectrum of age-related issues similar to humans and are susceptible to diseases that occur in humans but not in rodents. Mechanisms behind the root causes of the hallmarks of aging at the cellular and molecular levels have yet to be explored in the nonhuman primate.

“This model could potentially provide a window of opportunity to move aging research to the next level and assist in developing the clinical approaches that target the hallmarks of aging and their interconnection to one another,” said Dr. Salmon.

The nine hallmarks of aging include:
1. Genomic instability, high frequency of genetic mutations within a genome
2. Telomere attrition, the gradual loss of the protective ends of chromosomes
3. Epigenetic alterations, changes in the chemical structure of DNA
4. Loss of proteostasis, development of nonnative protein aggregates in tissues
5. Deregulated nutrient sensing, body’s inability to take in key nutrients effectively
6. Mitochondrial dysfunction, disruption in mitochondria’s ability to regulate cellular pathways in the body
7. Cellular senescence, regular cell cycle is interrupted because cells become resistant to growth-promoting stimuli
8. Stem cell exhaustion, a deficiency of stem cells due to aging. Stem cells are cells that can turn into any cell type and are needed to repair systems in the body
9. Altered intercellular communication, alteration in the signaling between cells which happens as a result of aging

“The NIH is really focused on interdisciplinary, collaborative research, “ Dr. Ross added. “We have assembled a team that blends expertise in marmoset physiology and behavior, aging interventions and molecular mechanisms to address some of the remaining questions in aging through cutting-edge research. We’re at the forefront of using marmosets for geriatric research and are very excited to explore the use of marmosets to test pharmaceutical interventions.”

The Southwest National Primate Research Center at Texas Biomed (SNPRC) houses one of two marmoset colonies at a National Primate Center, and is home to 400 marmosets with the largest geriatric marmoset colony in the country. Recently, the NIH awarded SNPRC a grant to double the size of its marmoset colony to support ongoing and future neuroscience research.

Research is being supported by the National Institute On Aging of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U34AG068482. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. Research at SNPRC is also supported by the Office of Research Infrastructure Programs, National Institutes of Health P51 OD011133.