- Smith, Roy Leader
The Scripps Research Institute's Department of Metabolism and Aging at the Scripps Florida campus is focused on understanding the basis of metabolic diseases and identifying the physiological changes that cause loss of function during aging. By understanding the processes associated with these diseases, scientists can take advantage of the unique facilities offered at Scripps Florida that include medicinal chemistry and pharmacology; both are essential for the efficient development of safe and novel therapies.
Multidisciplinary approaches create synergy in the discovery process. Areas of research include developmental biology of fat and muscle, cartilage catabolism, whole body metabolism, molecular genetics, bioinformatics, imaging, and structural studies on G-protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). The department also applies zebra fish and mouse genetics to help identify safe drug targets for treatment and prevention of functional deficiencies. Such approaches led to identification of a new GPCR, GHS-R1a, and its endogenous agonist, a hormone called ghrelin. A decline in ghrelin production appears to explain many of the changes occurring during normal aging.
In animal models, ghrelin administration inhibits neuronal loss associated with Parkinson's disease, and stroke. Ghrelin also regulates metabolic pathways and the immune system. Identifying the key structural elements of the GHS-R1a is being done in collaboration with Scripps La Jolla. Ongoing studies are designed to elucidate the mechanisms involved.