During his career, Sanjay Asthana, MD, has forged new ground in geriatrics and gerontology research. He has published extensively in the fields of hormone therapy, Alzheimer’s disease, and gerontology. He has trained over 40 physician-scientists and investigators in dementia and aging research. And he has served as director of the Wisconsin Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center (ADRC), carefully guiding the activities of its members. A key accomplishment of the ADRC has been the discovery of biomarkers for preclinical stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Starting on April 1, 2015, Dr. Asthana will take on a whole new challenge as the first-ever Associate Dean for Gerontology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. According to Robert Golden, MD, Robert Turell Professor in Medical Leadership and Dean, School of Medicine and Public Health, “This important new position will coordinate the activities of several SMPH research programs in aging, promote collaboration between these programs and others on campus, and lead strategic planning for SMPH research on aging.” Dr. Asthana will also promote pursuit of new multi-investigator grants from the National Institutes of Health in geriatrics and gerontology.
Reflecting on his vision and objectives, Dr. Asthana responded to the following questions from Robyn M. Perrin, PhD, public affairs and communications manager, Department of Medicine.
RMP/Department of Medicine: As the first-ever associate dean for gerontology, what will be your primary focus?
Dr. Asthana: My primary focus will be to coordinate and synergize aging research throughout SMPH and UW, and launch new collaborative, interdisciplinary, translational research programs that will build upon the existing strengths, bring investigators from across the campus and attract larger center and program project grants from NIH and other federal and non-federal sources to UW. The new programs will support a full spectrum of studies targeting common aging-associated diseases, spanning from their basic biology to translational, patient-oriented, health services and outcomes research. Notably, the majority of studies will reveal results that will be directly relevant to patient care and disease prevention.
Given the remarkable strengths and international status of SMPH and UW in kinesiology, exercise physiology and physical function research, one of my top priorities will be to establish an NIH-funded Claude D. Pepper Center* at SMPH. The overarching scientific theme of this Center will be to enhance physical independence of older adults. To that end, the Center will create a cohesive team of investigators conducting research on all aspects of mobility and physical function, including sarcopenia, bone mineral metabolism, exercise physiology, assistive devices, falls prevention and use of information technology, biomechanical devices and bioinformatics for in-home monitoring, data collection intervention trials.
RMP/Department of Medicine: How will you measure success?
Dr. Asthana: I think the major metric of success will be our ability to generate novel information in the field of biology of aging, longevity and common aging-related diseases research that will help us better understand the pathobiology of these diseases, and improve the overall quality of life and longevity for older adults.
The other metrics will be the classic academic benchmarks: Attracting larger NIH and other peer-reviewed grants to SMPH, attracting talented faculty scientists to UW, enhancing the overall quality and productivity of research programs, and training the next generation of leaders in gerontology research.
RMP/Department of Medicine: What makes University of Wisconsin-Madison unique as an environment for aging research?
Dr. Asthana: UW-Madison has a long history of supporting world-class, pioneering studies in all aspects of biomedical research. It is a premier institution at which to conduct aging research for many reasons, including its resources and expertise in biomolecular research, genomics, epigenomics, biotechnology, regenerative medicine, computational biology, and access to extensive data from several NIH-funded observational studies of aging and state-wide networks essential to conduct community-based and dissemination research.
Another distinct feature of UW is the culture. Academics have to be the basic ingredient of anything we do; this is very unique to this university. It’s the ability to think outside of the box and try high-risk ideas. That’s what keeps UW-Madison one of the most innovative institutions in the country and the world.
*Editor’s note: According to NIH-NIA, The Claude D. Pepper Older American Independence Centers (OAIC) program “was established in honor of the late Representative to establish centers of excellence in research and research career development that will increase scientific knowledge leading to better ways to maintain or restore independence in older persons.” More information: NIH-NIA | Pepper National Coordinating Center