OMRF researcher probes aging process

Published: Friday, December 27, 2013 By: Sarah Terry-Cobo Source: The Journal Record

Holly Van Remmen spends her days trying to unlock the answers to the aging process. She doesn’t know if she’ll ever find the fountain of youth, but she thinks she can ask better questions about how cells are damaged in the aging process.

She recently left the University of Texas Health Science Center, San Antonio, one of the premier academic institutions focused on aging and longevity research. She joined the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation as a researcher and member of the Free Radical Biology & Aging Research Program so she could get back to the laboratory. Her research focuses on how muscles atrophy and the role of nerve cell communication with muscles.

Her interest in aging began as a college student. She worked at a nursing home and studied pre-medicine. Though she was interested in physiology, Van Remmen realized medical school wasn’t a good fit for her. She was passionate about the discovery part of science rather than the job of treating patients. After graduate school, she started postdoctoral work at the UT Health Science Center, where she subsequently worked for 30 years.

She never imagined she would end up in Oklahoma City, however. Her path to the nonprofit research foundation began three years ago at a conference in Paris. Van Remmen met Luke Szweda, program chairman of OMRF’s Free Radical Biology & Aging Research Program. He tried to persuade her to join the team in Oklahoma.

She didn’t immediately consider the prospect. In San Antonio, she had developed a reputation and a number of professional relationships.

“I couldn’t think of any good reason to leave (San Antonio),” she said. “I saw the aging research program grow and expand into the thing it is today. I was really pretty happy there, and there are a good number of colleagues interested in aging.”

She also wore a number of administrative hats, however, which took time away from her laboratory and the research work she loves. So after a while, and a few more calls from Szweda, Van Remmen decided to visit.

“The strength OMRF has is its unparalleled support for research,” she said. “I saw the core labs here and the idea started to bug me.”

After visiting the facility a few times, meeting potential colleagues and other Oklahomans, she decided that working with OMRF was a great opportunity, she said.

Like many researchers who depend on federal funding from the National Institutes of Health and other agencies, her biggest challenge is securing the next grant. She has a senior scholar award from the Ellison Medical Foundation for $150,000 for four years.

In addition, she anticipates that she will receive two more, but hasn’t yet received word. One is a two-year, $275,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health National Institute on Aging. Another possibility is a Veterans Affairs Merit Review Award

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