Researcher receives NIA grant to study traumatic stress-related accelerated cellular aging in the brain

Erika Wolf, PhD, clinical research psychologist for the National Center for PTSD at the VA Boston Healthcare System and associate professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine, is the recipient of a four-year, $1.7 million R01 award from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) to study traumatic stress related accelerated cellular aging in the brain. She will use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure neurometabolites, which reflect the chemical activity of the brain.

The award will support her project, Longitudinal Neurometabolic Outcomes of Traumatic Stress-Related Accelerated Cellular Aging.

Accelerated cellular aging (biological aging that is faster than normal) is associated with premature onset of age-related diseases such as cardiometabolic disorders and neurocognitive decline. A major public health concern, early onset of age-related health conditions substantially decrease the number of years an individual is able to contribute to society and leads to more years of high-cost healthcare.

In collaboration with other investigators at VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston University School of Medicine, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System, Wolf will examine the associations between traumatic stress-related accelerated cellular aging in the peripheral nervous system and subsequent brain health among veterans. In particular, she will observe how biomarkers of cellular aging, such as advanced epigenetic age, inflammation and neuropathology, predict central biomarkers of cellular aging, such as neurometabolites (chemical metabolism) in prefrontal cortex and changes in neurocognitive functioning over time.

According to Wolf, this study features several state-of-the-science methodologies including Simoa-based assays to gage very small concentrations of peripheral biomarkers of cellular aging and magnetic resonance spectroscopy to assess neurometabolites indicative of neuropathology and neuro-inflammation.

The ultimate aim of this study is to contribute to new targeted interventions to slow the pace of cellular aging, improve health, reduce the broader burden of disease and increase human lifespan."

Erika Wolf, PhD, Clinical Research Psychologist

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