April 6, 2001
Volume XXXIV, No. 14

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Recruitment of 3 top researchers
called coup for South Texas aging research

Portrait of Dr. James Smith DR. SMITH

Three top U.S. scientists have agreed to join the highly successful aging research program at the Health Science Center, university leaders announced April 2. The scientists signed letters of acceptance for faculty positions in mid-March.

The scientists, recruited from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, are Drs. James R. Smith, Olivia M. Pereira-Smith and Peter J. Hornsby. "We have been courting these distinguished colleagues for several months and this is a coup for the San Antonio research community," said Dr. Arlan G. Richardson, director of the Health Science Center's Aging Research and Education Center (AREC).

The recruitment of the research trio comes on the heels of another important San Antonio announcement in aging research. On Feb. 14, U. T. System Regents announced that San Antonio philanthropists Sam and Ann Barshop had generously donated $4 million to nearly complete fund-raising for the Health Science Center's planned Sam and Ann Barshop Center for Longevity and Aging Studies, to be located in the Texas Research Park. The Regents voted to name the center for the Barshops.

"The Barshops' wonderful gift will serve South Texans for generations to come," Dr. Richardson said. "We are seeking talented researchers to occupy the new laboratories, and we have a great start with Drs. Smith, Pereira-Smith and Hornsby."

Added Mr. Barshop: "This is another indication that the Sam and Ann Barshop Center for Longevity and Aging Studies will become a first-class medical research facility. I am pleased that the Health Science Center has been successful in recruiting scientists of their stature in the field of aging research."

Dr. James Smith is professor of cell genetics and co-director of Baylor's highly regarded Huffington Center on Aging. He serves as co-director of basic research in aging, geriatrics and extended care service at the VA Medical Administration in Houston. He is the director of a $5.6 million program project funded by the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to study the control of gene expression in cellular senescence (the last stages in the life of cells). He received a Ph.D. in molecular biophysics from Yale in 1970.

Dr. Smith will be appointed to the Ewing Halsell Chair in Aging Research. He will be the director of the cell senescence program at the Sam and Ann Barshop Center for Longevity and Aging Studies.

Portrait of Dr. Olivia Pereira-Smith DR. PEREIRA-SMITH

Dr. Olivia Pereira-Smith, his wife, is professor of molecular virology, medicine and cell biology at Baylor and director of its graduate studies in the biology of aging program, which has a special track in the interdepartmental cell and molecular biology graduate program. She is co-director of basic science research in aging at the VA Medical Administration. Her current multiyear NIA grant supports molecular and cytogenetic studies of human cell aging. She completed a Ph.D. in biomedical sciences from the Worcester (Mass.) Polytechnic Institute in 1981.

Dr. Hornsby is professor of molecular and cellular biology at Baylor's Huffington Center. His research is supported by grants from the National Institute on Aging and he is a recipient of an Ellison Medical Foundation Senior Scholarship Award. His research concerns the use of cell transplantation techniques to probe cellular aging processes. This work uses cells of the adrenal cortex, a gland that secretes steroid hormones including DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), a hormone that is secreted abundantly in the young but much less in older individuals. He received a Ph.D. in cell biology from the Institute of Cancer Research, part of the University of London (England), in 1974.

The three scientists have received numerous honors and have been widely published. Dr. James Smith has served on the NIA's Cellular Resources Advisory Committee since 1983 and is reviewing editor of the Journal of Gerontology. Drs. Pereira-Smith and Hornsby are MERIT award winners from the National Institutes of Health. MERIT awards enable researchers with outstanding research programs to continue their federal funding without entering the highly competitive process for grant renewals.

Portrait of Dr. Peter Hornsby DR. HORNSBY

In 1994, the Smiths received the Allied Signal Achievement Award for Excellence in Aging Research and the Paul F. Glenn Foundation Award of the Gerontological Society of America for their work in cell senescence.

The researchers will assume academic appointments in the following Health Science Center departments: Dr. James Smith in pathology, Dr. Olivia Pereira-Smith in cellular and structural biology and Dr. Peter Hornsby in physiology.

Under the AREC umbrella, 150 university faculty members study genes, diet and other facets of aging. The Health Science Center currently receives more federal funding for studies of aging than any other academic health science center in Texas.

The AREC goal is to produce scientific knowledge that increases the longevity of today's aging population and enhances quality of life during aging. AREC scientists study aging as the underlying cause of many diseases and conditions, including cancer, diabetes and dementia, which disproportionately affect the South Texas region.


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