Innovator Award Recipients

Meet the 2021 Grant Recipients

Lindsay De Biase, PhD
Assistant Professor, University of California, Los Angeles

Project: Synapse health in cognitive aging: central roles for microglial regulation of extracellular matrix (ECM)

Cognitive decline during aging is tightly linked to changes in the status of synapses, the connections between neurons where information is stored. Yet, the factors that regulate synapse health during aging are not well understood. Microglia are immune-like cells in the brain that respond to infection, disease, and injury. Surprisingly, these cells can also regulate the function and integrity of neuronal synapses.

With support from the Innovator Award in Cognitive Aging and Memory Loss, Dr. Biase will investigate the possibility that microglia shape synapse health during aging via modification of the extracellular matrix (ECM). The ECM is a meshwork of proteins and sugars woven tightly around neurons that potently regulates synapse stability. Recent studies and Dr. Biase's preliminary data show that microglia express numerous genes involved in building up and breaking down the ECM and that they can engulf ECM components. Dr. Biase will use multiple technical approaches to elucidate links between microglial-ECM interactions, synapse stability, and cognitive performance in aging mice and rats. The overarching goal is to identify molecular pathways for therapeutic modulation of microglial-ECM interactions to preserve cognition.


Saul Villeda, PhD
Assistant Professor, University of California, San Francisco

Project: Caloric-restriction Induced Mechanisms of Cognitive Rejuvenation

Identifying novel therapies to delay, and potentially reverse, age-related cognitive decline is critical given the projected increase of dementia-related disorders in an aging population. Caloric restriction counters age-related impairments in cognitive function in the aged brain. Dr. Villeda’s lab and others have shown that systemic interventions, including administration of blood plasma derived from young or exercised aged animals rejuvenates cognition at old age. The rejuvenating effects of caloric restriction mirror those observed with a youthful circulation, raising the possibility that caloric restriction similarly functions through blood factors to exert its beneficial effects. 

With support from the Innovator Award in Cognitive Aging and Memory Loss, Dr. Villeda’s research will investigate the rejuvenating potential of caloric restriction-induced blood factors on the aged brain at the cellular, molecular and cognitive level. The proposed studies aim to identify molecular mechanisms that can be targeted to promote cognitive rejuvenation at old age, with clear therapeutic implications for dementia-related neurodegenerative disorders.

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For more information on program eligibility and application procedures, please visit the American Federation on Aging website.

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