New Faculty Member Henri Jasper Moving to the Buck This Summer

Will establish a lab focused on enhancing stem cell function

Henri Jasper, PhDMoving is a challenge. Especially when it involves relocating 1,500 genetically unique strains of fruit flies (that’s approximately 20,000 individual flies) from a lab at the University of Rochester in New York to our new Regenerative Medicine Research Center at the Buck Institute. Incoming faculty Henri Jasper, PhD, says the flies and six members of his current lab will arrive at the Buck in late June. The flies will come via FedEx. Everyone else is gearing up for the great American road trip.

Jasper’s work is focused on enhancing stem cell function to promote longevity—in particular he wants to understand how adult stem cells regenerate damaged tissue and why their regenerative potential declines with age. These cells live in pockets throughout our bodies and go to work when important tissues are damaged. As we age, adult stem cells become less effective and problems can go unrepaired. Degeneration is believed to be a causative factor in many age-related diseases.

Jasper brings an international reputation as a stem cell biology “star” to the Buck Institute. He is acknowledged for making fundamental discoveries about the role of stress signaling and aging on stem cell behavior. Working in fruit flies, he was one of the first aging researchers to use stem cells in the fly intestine to test how aging affects stem cell function. The German-born scientist is now expanding his work into mammals—focusing on the mouse respiratory system, which regenerates from a stem cell population that closely resembles fly intestinal stem cells.

Jasper received his PhD from the University of Heidelberg and European Molecular Biology Laboratory where he studied stress signaling during embryonic development in fruit flies. He got into the aging field after being awarded a grant to study whether genes involved in stress signaling during development also impacted aging. They did and a career was born.

The Buck Institute has been on Jasper’s radar screen as a potential place to work for a number of years. He recalls meeting faculty member Gordon Lithgow in 2003 at a meeting in San Antonio, Texas (on a dude ranch, no less). He found Lithgow’s description of the Buck as a “think tank” for aging researchers very appealing. Over the years, he came to know faculty members Pankaj Kapahi, Judy Campisi and Brian Kennedy through various meetings and seminars, and was consistently impressed by the research being performed at the Buck. His visit here last year finally convinced him to make the move. “I was struck by the collaborative spirit at the Buck—it really is a unique environment,” said Jasper. “The opportunity to do interdisciplinary work with so many outstanding scientists is very exciting.”

One of Jasper’s first collaborations will be with the Kennedy lab, which is led by Institute CEO Brian Kennedy, PhD, and the Kapahi lab. The three groups intersect in their interest in the effects of diet and stress on aging, and are planning to explore the effects of metabolic signaling on stem cell maintenance and regeneration. “I am very pleased to welcome Henri to our faculty,” said Kennedy. “I have no doubt that he will have a major impact on our program in regenerative medicine. His science is stellar and he will provide an essential depth to our efforts to extend healthspan.”

Jasper says his wife and three children (ages ten, eight and five) are thrilled to be moving to Northern California. He’s endured 10 winters in Rochester and is eager to enjoy our temperate climate and gorgeous landscape. Jasper acknowledges the timing of his move is near perfect. “It’s very enticing to establish a lab in a new building,” referring to the Buck’s new 65,708 square feet, three-story research facility which opened April 14th. “But a building is only new for a certain amount of time. It’s the science that counts and that’s why I’m coming to the Buck. The Institute is poised to make major contributions to the field of regenerative medicine and I am very excited to be a part of that.”

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