Jim Kirkland is the director of the Robert and Arlene Kogod Center on Aging at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic. Kirkland’s research focuses on the impact of cellular aging (senescence) on age-related dysfunction and chronic diseases. Senescent cells accumulate with aging and in chronic diseases such as dementia, cancers, diabetes, and arthritis.
Kirkland's team developed the idea that removing senescent cells may extend healthspan, partly based on the observation that mice with mutations that increase lifespan have lower senescent cell burden than normal mice, and that short-lived mice have more of these cells. To test this idea, Kirkland and his team, in collaboration with others at Mayo Clinic, eliminated senescent cells from genetically modified mice. They found that this process enhanced healthspan, at least in the context of an accelerated aging-like disease, giving proof of principle for the notion that clearing senescent cells with a drug in non-genetically-modified individuals might be beneficial.
Kirkland’s team is using its findings to develop senolytic interventions that delay the onset of aging and alleviate or partially reverse age-related chronic diseases. “We predict many more senolytic drugs will appear at an accelerating pace over the next few years and that these drugs will be improved to more effectively target senescent cells,” said Kirkland of three new senolytic agents his team uncovered in March 2017. “These three drugs, if effective in clinical trials, could be transformative.”
Kirkland is recipient of the Ellison Medical Foundation Senior Scholars in Aging Award (2011) and the Glenn/AFAR Breakthroughs in Gerontology Award (2012), and was named an Honorary Professor of Healthy Ageing and the Pathobiology of Mammalian Ageing at the University Medical Center Groningen (Netherlands).