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Schlessinger Establishes New NIA Lab

Geneticist Dr. David Schlessinger is chief of the new Laboratory of Genetics at the National Institute on Aging Gerontology Research Center in Baltimore.

During his career, Schlessinger has made landmark contributions to both microbial and human genome studies. As director of the Center for Genetics in Medicine at Washington University in St. Louis for the past 10 years, his research included mapping the human X chromosome (based on mapping in yeast artificial chromosomes) and studying the pathophysiology of X-linked diseases related to human development and aging.

Dr. David Schlessinger

Schlessinger and researchers in NIA's human genetics unit, the transcription remodeling and regulation unit, and the gene recovery and analysis unit view aging as part of a developmental continuum. In their view, aging is dependent on an interplay of processes that begin in utero. "Overall, we want to link the analyses of aging in targeted systems to large-scale genomic study of the genes involved in the development of corresponding organs and processes," he says.

There are three major areas of research in Schlessinger's lab. First is the transition between immortal and mortal cells, particularly based on large-scale regulatory phenomena at the chromatin level. A fundamental feature of the initiation of aging in multi-cell animals is the transition from immortal embryonic stem cells to mortal differentiating cells, which can be analyzed at the level of gene regulation. Second are genes involved in the development of selected "nonrenewable" systems. In order to understand and ultimately try to compensate for loss of cells and tissues during aging, skin appendage and primitive kidney development are being studied as models. Third, genes involved in embryonic events that precede aging-related changes will be studied.

"I think that genomic studies of aging are also a logical extension of the genome approach, moving the analysis from a catalogue of genes to the determination of their spatial expression and function during the course of human development," Schlessinger says.

In addition to his research at NIA, Schlessinger serves as a councilor of the Human Genome Organization. He also served as president of the American Society for Microbiology in 1995.

He received his Ph.D. from Harvard University then took postdoctoral training at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. He joined the faculty at Washington University, where he was professor of molecular microbiology, genetics, and microbiology in medicine until coming to NIA.

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