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Glenn Foundation gift establishes fellowship, recruits top students to Barshop Institute

September 2012

by Natalie Gutierrez

Glenn Foundation doctoral student fellows Erin Munkacsy (left) and Brian Stoveken
Erin Munkacsy (left) and Brian Stoveken are the Barshop Institute’s first Glenn Foundation doctoral student fellows in the Biology of Aging program.
The older population – those we call grandmother, grandfather, mom, dad, and other family members – is growing swiftly. People 65 years and older numbered 39.6 million in 2009. By 2030 this group will number 72.1 million.*

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, chronic diseases, which affect older adults disproportionately, can contribute to disability, diminish quality of life and lead to an increase in health care and long-term health care costs.

Researchers at the Sam and Ann Barshop Institute for Longevity and Aging Studies are fervently working to develop new therapies to treat and prevent diseases that plague the elderly. In 2009, faculty members at the Barshop Institute established the first Ph.D. program in the country focused on the biology of aging. Their goal – to educate and train the next generation of investigators dedicated to pursuing a career in aging research.

This year, a gift of $200,000 from the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research has buoyed the Barshop Institute program by establishing the Glenn Foundation Doctoral Student Fellowship in the Biology of Aging. This is the first graduate student fellowship program in the country the Glenn Foundation has ever supported. The gift created two prestigious fellowships offered to students interested in pursuing the Ph.D. in the Biology of Aging.

The Barshop Institute joins other internationally renowned institutions that have received grants from the Glenn Foundation, including Harvard University, MIT, Stanford, the American Federation for Aging Research, the Buck Institute for Research on Aging and the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences.

Steven Austad, Ph.D., is interim director of the Barshop Institute and a professor of cellular and structural biology.

"We are so grateful to the Glenn Foundation for their gift that allows us to attract the most talented students to our program," Dr. Austad said. "This fellowship provides students with the unmatched opportunity to hasten their development into accomplished, independent researchers."

Arlan Richardson, Ph.D., professor and founding director of the Barshop Institute agreed.

"The Glenn fellowships enable us to recruit the brightest students into the field of aging, which is critical if we are to find ways to treat and delay age-related diseases and the aging process," he said.

The two fellows selected were Erin Munkacsy from the University of Illinois and Brian Stoveken from the University of Wisconsin. The fellowship provides each student with a $35,000-a-year stipend and an additional $33,000 each for training, travel to national and international seminars in aging, and for independent research projects in the final stages of the students’ doctoral studies.

At the University of Illinois, Munkacsy majored in biology and participated in research studies focused on memory loss, Alzheimer’s disease and the field of electrophysiology.

"The Glenn fellowship is an opportunity of a lifetime," Munkacsy said. "Aging research is the culmination of a multitude of my own personal and intellectual interests and innate abilities. This fellowship not only allows me to pursue that aim, but to do so among the best group of aging scientists in the country."

Stoveken earned his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. There he focused his research on metabolic profiling, genetics and mentored high school students and interns in the laboratories.

"I am inspired by the body of work coming from the UT Health Science Center, a clear leader in the field of aging research. And I’m thankful for the Glenn fellowship that signals the growing value placed on this discipline," Stoveken said. "While at the Barshop Institute, I hope to contribute to a better understanding of the mechanisms underlying ALS and Alzheimer’s disease. As a student and future researcher, this is a remarkable chance to make meaningful improvements in the quality of individuals’ lives. My long-term ambitions are to teach the next generation of scientists, and to develop therapeutic interventions for any of the myriad age-associated diseases that plague the ever-aging human race."

The Glenn Foundation for Medical Research is named for its founder and Chairman, Paul F. Glenn. The purpose of the foundation, established in 1965, is to extend the healthy productive years of life through research on the mechanisms of biological aging.

*Statistics are from the Administration on Aging of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

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