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$6.75 Million to extend primate studies of diet and aging

MADISON - A decade-long study of how diet affects the process of growing old, will continue and be expanded at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with the help of $6.75 million from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Begun in 1989 at the Wisconsin Regional Primate Research Center (WRPRC), the study of rhesus macaques on controlled diets is one of only two such studies in the world. The research, according to Richard Weindruch, a UW-Madison Medical School professor and the lead scientist for the project, is intended to answer a central question of biology: Can aging be held at bay by cutting down on calories?

"Dietary restriction offers a powerful experimental strategy to explore mechanisms of aging because it is the only intervention which has repeatedly and strongly increased maximum life span and retarded the rate of aging in laboratory rodents," said Weindruch. "But the study of calorie restriction and aging in non-human primates is in its infancy, as compared to the body of work done in rodents."

The new grant will enable scientists to continue studies in rhesus macaques, a much-studied and long-lived animal whose genetic and physiological characteristics parallel those of humans. The work is being conducted in several groups of primates whose calorie intake for the past five to 10 years has been reduced by about 30 percent, as well as monkeys whose diets permit them to eat as much as they wish.

The study of rhesus monkeys builds on extensive research in rodents, spiders and other animals that shows life span can be significantly extended and the rate of aging slowed by maintaining a nutritious but restricted diet, according to Weindruch.

In the ongoing Wisconsin study, the influence of diet on aging is tracked by monitoring and measuring a set of biological functions, known as biomarkers of aging, that tend to change as animals and people grow older (see sidebar).

Over the past decade, the Wisconsin study has provided a wealth
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Contact: Richard Weindruch
rhweindr@facstaff.wisc.edu
608-256-1901
University of Wisconsin-Madison
20-Jul-1999


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