Graduate Student Earns National Recognition for Anti-Aging Research

Silvana Sidhom '17 won an award for her research on a female hormone that may help men live longer.

By Christin Senior |
August 28, 2018

Silvana Sidhom in a lab.

(Photo by Christin Senior)

Scientists have not found the proverbial fountain of youth, but researchers at UCF believe that a female hormone may hold the secret to helping men live longer by reducing the onset of age-related diseases such as diabetes.

Generally, women tend to live longer than men, so scientists have looked at the role that female sex hormones play in extending life span. Silvana Sidhom ’17, a master’s of biotechnology student and Burnett Honors Scholar, works with anti-aging researcher Michal Masternak to study the metabolic effects of 17-alpha estradiol, a non-feminizing version of estradiol a type of estrogen. Such non-feminizing versions mean men treated with the hormone will not develop physical female characteristics.

Sidhom recently presented her research on 17-alpha estradiol at the 2018 American Aging Association Conference and won a third place Student Award, an honor usually reserved for doctoral candidates. Her submission also earned her a travel award from the association to attend the conference.

“With an aging population worldwide and increased occurrences of age-related diseases, there is a greater need to develop new therapies that can delay aging and protect us from these illnesses.”

In their study, funded by the National Institutes of Aging — a division of the National Institutes of Health — Sidhom and Masternak, along with Michael Stout from the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center, found that male mice treated with the hormone had a reduction in metabolic abnormalities, giving them the potential to live longer. There was no effect on female mice.

“With an aging population worldwide and increased occurrences of age-related diseases, there is a greater need to develop new therapies that can delay aging and protect us from these illnesses,” Sidhom says.

Aging, she says, is a major risk factor for metabolic syndromes and Type 2 diabetes. Sidhom’s research of how this hormone affects metabolism is geared toward developing interventions to extend lifespan and protect humans from age-related diseases.

“This hormone has been studied in terms of lifespan, but we are focusing on metabolic effects like insulin sensitivity and whether it can change metabolism in the females and the males,” Sidhom says.

In the ongoing study, male mice treated with 17-alpha estradiol had an increase in insulin-like growth factor 1, a hormone naturally produced in the body that helps promote normal bone and tissue growth and development, but diminishes as we age. Some studies have shown IGF-1 as having protective effects for the brain and heart.

“When we think of anti-aging it’s not just about living longer,” says Masternak, who has been studying aging and age-related diseases for more than a decade. “With aging we develop more and more age-related diseases, so if we can find an intervention to protect us or delay diseases, we can be healthy and independent through the last decade of our life. That is what’s important.”

Sidhom previously completed a bachelor’s in biotechnology and biomedical sciences at UCF, and is a recipient of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Scholarship.

“It means a lot to me to get my work nationally recognized like this,” Sidhom says of winning the award. “It is really a drive for me to continue progressing in my research as my peers recognize that the work is significant and the findings are promising.”