Haroldo Silva: Lead OncoSENS Scientist Researches Telomere Lengthening and Cancer Pathways

Posted by Iain Inkster on July 01, 2013 | OncoSENS

Meet Haroldo Silva, who joined SRF’s Mountain View center earlier this year!


What did you do before you came to SRF?

I was a doctoral student at the University of California, Berkeley, in the department of Bioengineering. My dissertation research aimed to construct a 3-dimensional matrix with biochemically defined factors at known concentrations that orchestrated differentiation of muscle progenitor cells into organized, contractile skeletal muscle tissue. Potential applications for this technology include in vitro drug screening and development as well as stem cell transplantation for patients suffering from several genetic and age-related myopathies.

How did you come to SRF, and/or what got you interested in working on aging research?

My dissertation laboratory at UC Berkeley is known for cutting-edge aging research and that was one of the reasons I joined that group in the first place. I also attended a seminar at Berkeley given by Aubrey de Grey which really opened my eyes about the real possibilities of a novel perspective on aging research transforming the world in our lifetime.

What project do you work on here, and what is your role in relation to the project?

I am the lead scientist of the OncoSENS team at SRF. Our group seeks to uncover the genetic pathways and mechanisms that enable cancer cells to acquire unlimited cellular division. One of the major hurdles cancer cells need to overcome is how to keep the ends of their chromosomes (i.e., telomeres) from shortening with each cell division. If left unchecked, the telomeres can eventually become so short that these cells just stop dividing or die. A major pathway exploited by cancer cells to elongate their telomeres is upregulation of an enzyme called telomerase. However, about 10-15% of cancers do not have any detectable telomerase activity and thus operate via another pathway called Alternative Lengthening of Telomeres (ALT). The goal of our research team is to find out which specific genes are responsible for ALT activity in these cancers. Therefore, in theory, removal of both telomerase and ALT genes from the genome should eradicate cancer completely.

What's your favorite part of working for SRF?

My favorite part of working at SRF is all the wonderful people here who make SRF a great environment to perform research that will lead to a world free of age-related disease.

What do you do for fun?

I was born and raised in Brazil so I am really into soccer and Brazilian steakhouses. My wife is Peruvian and she has made me fall in love with Peruvian cuisine as well. I am looking forward to my first visit to Peru this summer. I also plan to go to Brazil in 2014 to watch the FIFA World Cup in person for the first time.

Thanks to Haroldo for his great work here, and for taking the time to share his passions with us. We look forward to updating you on more of his team’s research in the near future!