The Healthspan Biology Lab studies the biology of “health span” (the period of life during which we are healthy and productive). We want to know what goes on at the biological level as we age, and how it affects our overall health across the entire lifespan.
One thing we know for certain is that “good stuff” like exercise improves health span, and we’re trying to determine if biological processes stimulated by exercise can help us understand other ways to improve healthspan (like nutrition, pharmaceuticals or genetics).
We are particularly interested in brain health across the lifespan, and in neuro-degenerative diseases that threaten healthy brain aging. To study this, we use a variety of translational techniques, including experiments in cells, C. elegans, mice and humans. We also do a lot of bioinformatics (computational biology), and one major project in the lab focuses on RNA metabolism and noncoding/repetitive RNAs in aging and neurodegeneration.
Tom LaRocca joined the department of Health and Exercise Science in 2019. His background is in molecular biology and physiology, but he is particularly interested in translational research (using laboratory science to develop practical applications or treatments that can help people). As a graduate student, he studied cellular changes that occur in the heart and arteries as we age, and as a postdoctoral fellow, he focused on the molecular biology of neuro-degenerative diseases like ALS and Alzheimer’s. As a result of these experiences, he became very interested in understanding the biology of health span, the period of life during which we are healthy and productive, and in research on biology-based ways to increase health span. Tom is also a former high school chemistry teacher and college instructor, so he enjoys bringing his interests into the classroom.