Preventing cell aging could reduce age-related illness

It’s inevitable. Everyone ages. Aging typically increases the chance of disease. Dong-Ming Su, PhD, associate professor of Molecular Biology and Immunology, is researching ways to prevent or delay the onset of diseases related to immune system aging.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have provided more than $2 million in support to Su to investigate molecular changes in the thymus, a gland located in the front of the neck that regulates the immune system. The thymus plays an active role in the aging of T cells, white blood cells that attack cells infected by bacteria, viruses or other disease causing organisms.

T cells are part of the adaptive immune system, which is composed of highly specialized, systemic cells and processes that eliminate or prevent pathogenic challenges and can prepare itself for future challenges. Influenza, cancer and rheumatoid arthritis are all examples of diseases caused from decreasing T cell function.

The thymus shrinks and fat begins to surround it, which prohibits the thymus from producing enough new T cells and fighting disease. Cells in the thymus can be divided into thymic stromal cells and hematopoietic stem cells. Su’s research team found that the stromal cells age more rapidly than the stem cells, which challenges traditional thinking.

"We are working to find a way to rescue the stromal cells from aging and make the microenvironment younger," Su said. "If the stromal cells do not age as quickly, the thymus will not shrink as quickly and would be able to produce new T cells."

Su said this could be accomplished through gene regulation, known as gene therapy, or through a stem-cell based therapy. While still in the early stages of lab research, Su said that gene expression could be stimulated through a simple injection.

"Although we are in the early stages of this research, this could ultimately change lives," Su said. "The consequences of this research could potentially increase life span and improve quality of life for the elderly."

Recent News

Wellest Team
  • On Campus
|Dec 6, 2022

Wellest Inc. founder Dave Sekowski partners with HSC faculty through Techstars program

For Dave Sekowski, founder and CEO of Wellest Inc., the road to wellness has not been easy. Growing up with limited access to healthy food and education about health and nutrition, he struggled with childhood obesity. “I had to take it upon myself to figure it out,” Sekowski said. “I joined...
IHI Banner
  • Patient Care
|Dec 6, 2022

TCOM leadership presents patient safety course to 2022 IHI forum

The Texas College of Osteopathic Medicine’s innovative patient safety course and how to incorporate it into an academic curriculum was on display at the 2022 Institute for Healthcare Improvement Forum in Orlando, Florida.  Frank Filipetto, DO, CPPS, FACOFP, dean of TCOM, and Lillee Gelinas DNP...
Stephanie Ibekwe
  • Our People
|Dec 5, 2022

A voice for women in medicine

When Dr. Stephanie Ibekwe’s mother, Sarah, came home from her nursing job, she would tell her daughter stories about her patients and the conversations she had with them. “Nursing is pretty stressful, but my mom had an amazing way of handling things,” she said. “My mom really loved to bui...
Noah Peeri Headshot
  • Our People
|Dec 5, 2022

SPH alum Dr. Noah Peeri produces JAMA Oncology publication just months after graduation

Noah Peeri, Ph.D., MPH, a recent graduate of The University of North Texas Health Science Center’s School of Public Health, has achieved a major milestone by publishing an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology just months after completing his graduate degree.   H...