This LabTV video takes us to the West Coast to meet Saul Villeda, a creative young researcher who’s exploring ways to reduce the effects of aging on the human brain. Thanks to a 2012 NIH Director’s Early Independence award, Villeda set up his own lab at the University of California, San Francisco to study how age-related immune changes may affect the ability of brain cells to regenerate. By figuring out exactly what’s going on, Villeda and his team hope to devise ways to counteract such changes, possibly preventing or even reversing the cognitive declines that all too often come with age.
Villeda is the first person in his family to become a scientist. His parents immigrated to the United States from Guatemala, settled into a working-class neighborhood in Pasadena, CA, and enrolled their kids in public schools. While he was growing up, Villeda says he’d never even heard of a Ph.D. and thought all doctors were M.D.’s who wore stethoscopes. But he did have a keen mind and a strong sense of curiosity—gifts that helped him become the valedictorian of his high school class and find his calling in science. Villeda went on to earn an undergraduate degree in physiological science from the University of California, Los Angeles and a Ph.D. in neurosciences from Stanford University Medical School, Palo Alto, CA, as well as to publish his research findings in several influential scientific journals.
That’s a very impressive track record. But Villeda wants young people to know that they don’t have to be a genius to be a scientist—biomedical research is at its best when creative individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds join in the search to answer biology’s great unknowns. And who knows where Villeda’s own search might lead? As he says in the video, this work might possibly suggest ways to extend the human lifespan—or perhaps reduce the losses of brain function as we age so that “we won’t live longer, we’ll live better.”
Villeda Lab (University of California, San Francisco)
Science Careers (National Institute of General Medical Sciences/NIH)
Careers Blog (Office of Intramural Training/NIH)