Please tell us about yourself

Indian American postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine Payel Sen was awarded with a postdoctoral transition award in aging, the university announced in a March 20 news release.

For receiving the award, given by the American Federation for Aging Research for senior postdoctoral fellows in the early stage of their careers, she was awarded $120,000, the university said.

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What did you study?

Sen earned her doctorate in biochemistry and molecular biology from Southern Illinois University School of Medicine, and her undergraduate degree in physiology and her master’s in biochemistry from the University of Calcutta.

Please tell us about your research

Sen’s research uses a variety of techniques to understand how the environment of the cell nucleus changes during aging and whether some of these changes can be reversed, the university said.

Sen is a research associate in the lab of Shelley Berger, the Daniel S. Och University professor and director of the Epigenetics Institute.

As part of the fellowship, Sen will investigate epigenetic mechanisms that contribute to loss of transcriptional fidelity during aging. Epigenetics refers to changes in chromosomes that do not involve alterations in the DNA sequence itself, the news release noted.

The changes may occur randomly or via the influence of the environment. Transcription is the method of making an RNA copy of a gene sequence. RNA then directs the synthesis of a protein, it said.

In the context of Sen’s research, transcriptional fidelity refers to the faithful preservation of the sites from which transcription begins.

Epigenetic changes have a major effect on the aging process; however, while the mechanisms remain largely unknown, growing evidence points to alterations in the nuclear environment and chromatin contributing to these processes, according to the university.

In previous research, Sen found that one consequence of these nuclear changes is faulty transcription from within gene bodies, a process called cryptic transcription, specifically the creation of RNA from sites within genes that are normally not exposed in healthy young cells, it said.

How does your work benefit the community?

With the award, Sen will examine the mechanism regulating cryptic transcription. She will also study aged mouse and human tissue samples to see if there are cryptic transcripts present, possibly establishing them as biomarkers for aging. Finally, she will inhibit formation of cryptic transcription in mice by depleting the enzymes that support its formation and examine how this affects health and life span, the news release said.