Basic Biology of Aging at the University of Washington

Training Grant Curriculum

The goal of our program is to train investigators for careers in science; this program does not include the training of clinicians or residents, although research-oriented MDs can apply as post-doctoral fellows. Each trainee will learn contemporary techniques in molecular genetics and molecular biology and apply them to research that addresses fundamental aspects of aging processes. In our current grant period, we have annual support from the NIA for 8 pre-doctoral students and 8 post-doctoral fellows.

Features of the curriculum include:

  • Seminar and Proseminar Courses
  • Genetic Approaches to Aging Journal Club
  • Annual Biology of Aging Course
  • Predoctoral Training
  • Postdoctoral Training

Seminar and Proseminar Courses

Each year the training program strives to invite a spectrum of speakers that represent many of the hottest topics in current biology of aging research. Trainee input is an important part of the selection process. To maximize the trainee benefit from these visitors, a proseminar is held the week before the speaker’s arrival in which one or more of the speaker’s published papers is discussed. Trainees meet with the speaker for lunch on the day of the talk, and after the day’s talk, trainees meet again with the speaker for a detailed question and answer session.

View list of recently invited speakers

Genetic Approaches to Aging Journal Club

This biweekly meeting is attended by all pre- and post-doctoral trainees, as well as other interested trainees, faculty, and staff. Each meeting consists of a 30 min. oral review by one of the trainees of their ongoing research progress, followed by a 30 min presentation by another trainee (or occasionally faculty member) of a current and topical journal publication or meeting summary. This format was chosen so as to enable each trainee to present one of each type of presentation within a 3 quarter interval.

Annual Course on the Biology of Aging

This survey of the field of aging is designed to graduate students with a broad comprehension of the diverse research aspects encompassed by the biology of aging. Some clinical aspects may be included, but it is basic biology oriented. Wherever possible the approach will be cellular, molecular, and include information on both invertebrate and vertebrate animal models of aging.

The initial session will be an introductory didactic lecture. All other sessions will consist of a Faculty or student lead lecture followed by class discussion of 2-3 key papers, previously made available, on the general subject for that session, which rotates among topics such as:

Theories on the role of evolution and examples of the biological manifestations of aging.

  • DNA damage and repair
  • Oxidative damage at cellular, nuclear and mitochondrial sites
  • Mitochondrial metabolism and aging  
  • Protein homeostasis (proteostasis) and aging
  • Stress responses and aging
  • Lifespan extension by caloric restriction, genetic and pharmacologic interventions 

In addition to discussion each week, every student will pick one of the papers and provide a written ‘peer review’ of that paper.

Pre-Doctoral Training Curriculum

The essence of the training program consists of original research under the tutelage of an experienced investigator. For the case of predoctoral trainees, this is supplemented by both required and elective course work. Such requirements vary among the several participating departments (Pathology, Genetics, Biochemistry, Biological Structure, Physiology & Biophysics, Microbiology, IMCBP).  We recognize our responsibility to ensure that trainees in our program have a firm foundation of knowledge in molecular and cellular biology as well as in gerontologic research. Each student must complete the Biology of Aging Course and an annual proseminar in Basic Biology of Aging, linked to the Seminar series of the same title. In other quarters we hold a bi-weekly Aging Journal Club.

We encourage and support the attendance of our predoctoral trainees at appropriate aging-related national meetings, conferences, or symposia in order that they have the opportunity to present the results of their thesis research and obtain exposure to such national forums, including opportunities to discover potential post-doctoral sponsors.

Finally, trainees have access to a large number of visiting scientists who are invited to give seminars by our participating departments or other sponsoring groups (e.g., the Alzheimer's Disease Research Center). 

Trainee progress is monitored via regular meetings (typically weekly with research sponsors, individual lab meetings, presentations at seminars and journal clubs and, in the case of graduate students, via the formal mechanisms conducted by the individual department graduate programs.

Post-Doctoral Training Curriculum

Post-doctoral training is devoted primarily to research in an individual laboratory and is augmented by attendance at weekly laboratory meetings, journal clubs, and seminars. The Departments of Pathology, Genetic and Biochemistry sponsor weekly or biweekly seminars, as do many other departments at the UW.

A programmatic focus is provided by attendance at the Annual Seminar series and the course on the Basic Biology of Aging. Attendance and presentation at the biweekly Genetic Approaches to Aging Journal Club is also required during those quarters in which it is held.

Each of the departments at the UW that participate in our program, and the Interdisciplinary Molecular and Cellular Biology Program, sponsor a required annual retreat and multiple forums for the presentation of research by postdoctoral as well as predoctoral trainees. Similarly, the closely affiliated Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (FHCRC) has an extensive outside speaker seminar series in molecular biology. There is also an opportunity for some of our postdoctoral trainees to teach both undergraduate and graduate students, but teaching is voluntary, is limited to at most 10% of their time and typically occurs only during the third year of training. This can provide valuable experience for future employment. We also encourage and support the attendance of our postdoctoral trainees at appropriate aging-related national meetings, conferences, or symposia

For post-doctoral trainees, the typical period of research training is 3 years. We anticipate that most of our postdoctoral trainees will obtain positions as independent investigators at universities or sometimes in private sector biotechnology. This is documented by the past record of the career outcomes for our former trainees.