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Professor Simon has been successful in her Wellcome Trust Investigator Award entitled: “Proteostasis and Autophagy in Immune Senescence.”

Katja Simon, Professor of Immunology at the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology has been awarded £1.8M over 5 years to explore the mechanics of autophagy and the role it plays in preventing ageing.

Healthcare challenges are intensifying as our population ages as age is the biggest single risk factor for many debilitating diseases, from infections to cancer. Immune ageing contributes by preventing useful immune responses as well as to other age-related diseases such as neurodegeneration, cardiovascular disease and cancer. But this process is little studied. Autophagy, a pathway activated when cells are stressed, clears away debris accumulated over time, recycling building blocks for re-use.

“Declining autophagy underpins ageing in many tissues, especially, as we have shown, in the immune system. We now want to identify what is degraded and what is generated by autophagy, to better understand how it prevents aging,” said Professor Simon. “I am delighted to receive this award as it will give my team and me the opportunity to study the underlying causes of aging both at a basic science level as well as trying to identify new drugs.

The award will enable Professor Simon to study how autophagy controls the amino acid pool and cellular energy levels and thereby protein synthesis. While protein synthesis levels decline with age, previous studies found that increasing the synthesis of autophagy proteins alone rejuvenates immune cells. By studying this pathway, they hope to identify new ways to prevent or even reverse the aging of immune cells.