An internationally recognized American scientist, Jan Van Deursen, has made groundbreaking discoveries that change our understanding of ageing and age-related diseases. Born in the Netherlands, Jan completed his PhD in 1994 and moved to the US to pursue his research. In the United States, Jan Van Deursen worked at the Mayo Clinic, and in 2000 he was named chair of the Biochemistry and Molecular Biology department. In this role, Jan Van Deursen helped develop novel treatment options for ageing-related diseases.
While at the Mayo Clinic, Jan van Deursen devoted considerable time to promoting faculty diversity. The biochemistry department filled 5 out of six tenure-track positions with diverse applicants, and he worked closely with the institution’s leadership to improve mentoring programs for non-tenure-track faculty. His research lab remained diverse throughout his tenure, even as he moved on to a new position. And although he was not yet a tenured professor, his laboratory remained diverse even when he became a vice-chair.
In 2018, Jan Van Deursen’s company, Unity Biotechnology, went public and is now listed on the NASDAQ. He remains entrepreneurially active and passionate about translating his discoveries into medicines. In particular, he focuses on ageing research and cancer and works on ways to treat unmet clinical needs in the elderly. The lab is already home to numerous patent applications and receives millions of dollars in funding.
Dr. van Deursen’s research has been published in leading journals. A recent study involving mice genetically engineered to kill senescent cells found that these mice developed sixty per cent less plaque in a major artery. The results were published in Science and Nature in 2016. The research was named a breakthrough by Science and placed fifth in Dr. van Deursen’s lab’s list of top 10 scientific breakthroughs.
Jan Van Deursen has mentored many young scientists in the Mayo Clinic Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. He has mentored dozens of researchers and aspired to become a principal investigator one day. Childs, who is a doctor-scientist, is one of many examples. The mentor-mentor relationship has proven to be an invaluable resource for the young researcher. And in return, Jan Van Deursen is a mentor to dozens of scientists.
As the scientific co-founder of Unity Biotechnology, Jan Van Deursen is helping develop therapies that will slow down and reverse the ageing process. Unity Biotechnology focuses on developing therapies that target the underlying causes of ageing, and its discoveries may lead to therapies that reverse the ageing process and improve quality of life. So, why are these breakthroughs important? The answer lies in finding ways to cure age-related diseases.
Dr. van Deursen’s career began with discovering a cell-ageing disease in mice. His work in this area led to the discovery of a protein called BubR1. This protein is responsible for faithful chromosome segregation and is causally implicated in diseases like cancer, progeria, and ageing. The discovery of this protein is a major step in understanding human ageing.
The findings of this study have been published in Nature and Science. In 1999, Dr Van Deursen accepted a position at the Mayo Clinic, and he was recruited by Dr Bill Crist and Dr Rick Bram, now the chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Mayo Clinic. The Mayo Clinic’s research model is based on collaboration, allowing for faster discovery of answers to unmet patient needs.