Computational biologist receives $400,000 award

Ellison Medical Foundation’s New Scholar in Aging award furthers Robins' collaborative research in age-related immune function
Dr. Harlan Robins
Dr. Harlan Robins plans to use his $400,00, four-year award to study immunosenesence—the deterioration with aging of the human immune system. Photo by Carol Insalaco

Dr. Harlan Robins of the Public Health Sciences Division has won a New Scholar in Aging award from The Ellison Medical Foundation. Robins joins PHS investigator Dr. Jason Bielas and 23 others nationwide in receiving a $400,000, four-year award.

Robins, a former theoretical physicist, joined the Center’s Computational Biology program in 2006 after a four-year stint at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J. He plans to use the award to study immunosenesence—the deterioration with aging of the human immune system.

“Working intensively with Harlan over the past 20 months has demonstrated to me time and time again his remarkable intellectual creativity and his rare ability to recognize the critical computational issues within many complex biological problems,” wrote Dr. Hootie Warren, Clinical Research Division, in his recommendation letter for the award. "In his relatively short career to date, he has repeatedly demonstrated his knack for delving into complex biological problems and coming up with truly original insights that stimulate novel approaches to those problems."

Robins will use the funding to collaborate further with Warren and PHS’s Dr. Chris Carlson on computational techniques to better understand the aging immune system.

“We have developed a method to observe millions of T-cells—one of the two cell types in the adaptive immune system—simultaneously,” Robins said. “Applying our new technology to different age cohorts should allow to us explore the changes in T-cell function with age, which potentially correlate with the increase in morbidity and mortality due to infection in the elderly.”

Founded in 1997 by Larry Ellison, president of Oracle software, The Ellison Medical Foundation supports basic biomedical research on aging relevant to understanding lifespan development processes and age-related diseases and disabilities. The foundation’s goal is contribute to a “safety net” of support that allows newly independent investigators to staff their laboratories, collect preliminary data and organize research programs of sufficient momentum to obtain ongoing support from other sources.

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