Ellison Foundation honors Abrams for age-related research

By Debbie Bolles

An investigation of the tumor suppressor p53 gene and its potential impact on the body’s aging process has earned Dr. John Abrams, Professor of Cell Biology, an Ellison Medical Foundation award.

Dr. John Abrams
Dr. John Abrams

The Bethesda, Md.-based foundation that funds aging-related research awarded Dr. Abrams the Ellison Medical Foundation Senior Scholar Award, an honor that includes a four-year grant totaling $953,375.

“These genes link environmental stressors to adaptive cellular responses, affecting life span and cancer susceptibility,” said Dr. Abrams, one of 25 investigators nationwide to receive the award. “Our research could have significant implications to unlock treatment of cancer and age-related diseases.”

The most commonly mutated gene in human cancers is p53. It works by regulating the expression of so-called target genes, similar to an integration device that responds to stimuli by operating switches that turn sets of genes on and off, Dr. Abrams said.

To accomplish this, p53 binds to specific regulatory places on chromosomes called enhancers. The Abrams lab found that an enhancer can contact and regulate multiple target genes on different chromosomes.

Over the next four years, Dr. Abrams will investigate whether normal aging affects this level of p53-influenced chromosomal organization, and also whether this genetic activity contributes to aging. To do so, the research team will conduct genetic experiments on fly, mouse and human samples to try to document the extent to which p53 organization might be manipulated to produce chronologically younger profiles.