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Max Planck to open aging center

The focus of the institute will be on the basic biology of aging processes

By | April 15, 2004

Germany's Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science has decided in principle to create a new institute focused on the biology of aging, an area some in Germany consider understudied.

The biology of aging is “an upcoming and rapidly expanding area of research that is currently not being adequately covered at German universities or private research institutes,” said Ulrich Hartl of the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry, a member of an advisory committee formed last year to study the issue.

“We need more research is this area,” Hartl told The Scientist. The planned institute would be the first of its kind in Europe, he said.

In the United States, the Buck Institute in the San Francisco area is similar to what Max Planck wants to create, Hartl said. He noted that Judith Campisi of the Buck Institute served on the Max Planck advisory committee that recommended creation of the new institute.

The German institute will research whether basic cellular mechanisms of aging are determined by genetic programs and to what extent they are affected by environmental influences, Hartl said. Research also would include seeking methods of defining aging at the biochemical level.

The next step in the creation of the institute will be raising money and deciding exactly how the institute will be structured, Hartl told The Scientist.

Where the new institute will be based also has not yet been determined, although Hartl said it most likely would be formed within a German university or within the Max Planck organization.

“We believe the institute should be embedded in a strong, preexisting research structure,” Hartl said. He declined to estimate how much money would be needed to create the institute or what its annual budget might be.

A possible structural model for the new biology of aging institute could be the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden. If that were the case, the new institute could be divided into three or four departments, with each department consisting of around 40 scientists and technicians.

That would mean the full institute could have between 150 to 200 staff members, Hartl said, but emphasized: “That is really a very rough estimate.”

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