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Matt Kaeberlein

Q&A with Matt R. Kaeberlein, PhD, FGSA, from the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington

kaeberleinMeet Matt.

“Identifying mentors who will give you honest feedback and help you identify opportunities for career advancement is probably more important than most people realize.”

Q: Why did you become a member, and what type of involvement do you have?
A: I joined GSA just after completing my PhD thesis in Lenny Guarente’s lab at MIT. My PhD thesis research was focused on the molecular mechanisms of aging, and the GSA Biological Sciences section was a natural fit. Since joining GSA, I have served on the Publications Committee and the Biological Sciences Executive Committee, and I have presented and chaired sessions at several annual meetings and pre-meetings.

Q: How has membership in GSA benefited you?
A: The opportunity to get to know and interact with many of my colleagues interested broadly in aging research has been an invaluable benefit from my involvement with GSA. GSA is really the only scientific organization that brings together a wide diversity of people with a shared interest in aging.

Q: How did you get interested in the field of aging?
A: I got interested in aging biology during my first year as a graduate student at MIT. I went to graduate school with the intention of pursuing PhD research on structural biology or biophysical chemistry, which was my background. That all changed when I heard a seminar by Lenny Guarente during my first year talking about how his lab was using genetics and biochemistry to understand the molecular mechanisms of aging in budding yeast. I had never before considered aging as a biological problem, but I was immediately taken by the idea that we could actually understand this immensely complex problem through scientific investigation. After that, I joined Lenny’s lab and started studying the role of Sir2 in aging and haven't looked back since.

Q: How do you feel GSA serves the field of gerontology and aging research?
A: GSA plays a unique and important role in gerontology. It is the only organization that spans the entire spectrum of aging research and education, from basic biology to clinical aspects to psychological and social aspects of aging. I think we all recognize that we can gain valuable insights from our colleagues who approach aging from different backgrounds and perspectives. While it’s not always easy to figure out how to make that happen, GSA provides the opportunity for interactions that are unlikely to happen anywhere else.

Q: What are your key responsibilities at your job?
A: I am a Professor of Pathology at the University of Washington where I run a research lab that fluctuates between 50-60 members at any given time. In many ways, this is much like running a small business. Certainly, one big responsibility I have is to guide the research direction in the lab and to make sure we can pay for it, by writing and hopefully obtaining grants. Managing people and mentoring them is another big responsibility. Dealing with the bureaucracy is the biggest headache, but by and large it’s an immensely rewarding career and I hope to continue doing this for many more years.

Q: What has been your most memorable experience in gerontology and aging research?
A: I was extremely fortunate to get to spend about four years mentoring young scientists at the Ageing Research Institute of Guangdong Medical College in Dongguan, China. Along with Brian Kennedy, Yousin Suh, and Zhongjun Zhou, I worked with the students and faculty there to design experiments and develop a sustainable program in aging research. This involved about 15 trips to China with many adventures and memories I’ll treasure forever. I especially value the opportunities I had to experience different aspects of Chinese culture and the friendships I made.

Q: Do you have any tips for emerging gerontologists?
A: This is an exciting time to be entering the field of aging research, especially the biology of aging. I’m jealous of those who are “emerging gerontologists” today. In the blink of an eye, they’ll be telling you you’re a “senior gerontologist” so enjoy it! Of course, you have to write grants, publish papers, network at meetings, etc. Identifying mentors who will give you honest feedback and help you identify opportunities for career advancement is probably more important than most people realize. One tip that I don’t hear mentioned often in science is to surround yourself with people you enjoy being around. This is especially important if you are running your own lab. I’ve been careful to do this, and I think it has contributed to a great overall lab environment.

Q: Tell us a little about your most recent activities/accomplishments.
A: One area I’ve been working on over the past few years is something called the Dog Aging Project. Our two broad goals for the Dog Aging Project are to (1) understand the environmental and genetic determinants of healthy aging in pet dogs and (2) to make pet dogs live longer, healthier lives. The first objective is being tackled through a nationwide Longitudinal Study of Aging in >10,000 companion dogs. The second objective involves veterinary clinical trials of interventions that have been shown to increase lifespan and delay age-related declines in health in laboratory mice. The first intervention we are testing is rapamycin, which can increase lifespan by ~25%, delays several age-related diseases, and rejuvenates cardiac and immune function in mice. There are many reasons why companion dogs are an outstanding choice for this kind of translational geroscience, but the most important one to me is that I want my own dogs (and yours!) to live longer, healthier lives. And I’m pretty confident we can do it.

Q: Have you had an important mentor in your career? If so, how did s/he make a difference?
A: I’ve been fortunate to have had several great scientific mentors who have supported me and without whom I would have not been as successful. Lenny Guarente introduced me to the biology of aging which has become my scientific passion. Stan Fields gave me the resources to be successful as a post-doc, but more importantly was my role model for the kind of scientist (and person) I hope to be. George Martin and Peter Rabinovitch gave me invaluable advice on how to be successful as a PI, helped me identify important questions to ask, and created opportunities to advance my career. Brian Kennedy has been a true friend in addition to a great mentor, and our long-term collaboration has been more productive than I could have possibly imagined, even if he does steal my slides and take credit for them from time to time.

Want to ask Matt a question? Contact him on GSA Connect!

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