Dr. Michael Kobor – Setting the Stage for Healthy Aging

We extend our congratulations to Dr. Michael Kobor who has been appointed the inaugural chair of the new Edwin S.H. Leong Healthy Aging Program at UBC. The Edwin S.H. Leong Chair in Healthy Aging is a UBC President’s Excellence Chair. With Dr. Kobor’s substantial expertise on the epigenetic impacts of environmental factors, he will build an innovative program focused on understanding the aging process, while developing practical strategies to improve healthy aging. The Healthy Aging Program is housed within UBC’s Faculty of Medicine through the generous support of a visionary gift of $24-million from UBC alumnus Edwin Leong, a Hong Kong businessman and philanthropist. 

Dr. Kobor is a Professor of Medical Genetics, a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Social Epigenetics, and a Senior Scientist at the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics (CMMT) and the BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute. Until recently, Dr. Kobor served as the Sunny Hill BC Leadership Chair in Early Childhood Development, as well as the Director for Healthy Starts at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute and as a member of the Research Leadership Council (RLC) until March 31, 2022. Dr. Kobor has made notable contributions to the Healthy Starts Theme, as well as to the RLC during his many years of service. 

“I’m tremendously honoured to be the inaugural holder of this chair and grateful to Edwin Leong for his generosity that made this possible,” says Dr. Kobor. “Through this program, I will work to advance Dr. Leong’s vision to improve the quality of life of people as they age and to ensure people around the world can thrive and make the most of their later years.”

“My experience with child health and development has played a big role in conceptualizing my views on healthy aging,” he says.

“Through our lab’s work on the early life social and environmental factors that get ‘under the skin’ to shape life-long health, I have gained an appreciation that in order to promote healthy aging we need to promote health and well-being across the life course, not just in our older years.”

“Over the years that I have been at BCCHR and CMMT, I have built many collaborations that have broadened the scope of my team’s research,” says Dr. Kobor.  “CMMT has always encouraged us to build from our strong basic model organism research program on gene regulation and to expand this into human life course epigenetics.”

“CMMT has been a fantastic place for me to interact with and learn from great and visionary leaders. I am excited to take that mindset into the new Healthy Aging Research Program and build on these connections by forming new collaborations at UBC and abroad that I believe will be of tremendous benefit to our local community and UBC more broadly.”

Dr. Kobor has made many notable contributions to the field of healthy aging, including a landmark review paper in 2015 showing how aging and health are influenced by molecular tags on our DNA that accumulate over time and with environmental exposures – a process known as DNA methylation. 

Dr. Kobor’s research has shown how early life experiences, including childhood poverty and parental care, can have long term impact on health and disease.  His research led to the creation of a new molecular “epigenetic clock” that looks at chemical tags on DNA associated with aging and environmental exposures. His team is currently investigating how the epigenetic clock might be used for measuring and monitoring biological age across the life span. 

Dr. Kobor has been heavily involved in the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) which integrates epigenetic principles and analysis into the long-term national study as it follows 50,000 Canadians in their aging process.  He is currently investigating the underpinnings of healthy aging in several of the world’s “blue zones” – areas where residents live longer than average and do so in extremely good health and vigour.

Dr. Kobor’s research focuses on the intersections between environment, gene expression and health outcomes and will support the development of interventions to address health inequities and promote healthy development and aging.

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