Richard F. Walker is a passionate biologist, who has dedicated more than 50 years in science. His main interests are focused on human aging and the endocrine system, trying to understand how dysregulation of hormones interplay with aging. Over the years, he has led and participated in the development of important therapeutic interventions that advanced scientific understanding on the field of aging.
Studies and Academic Career
Dr. Walker received his B.S. in Pharmacy from Rutgers University in 1961. Then, he shifted to Biochemistry and gained an M.S. degree from New Mexico State University. He returned to Rutgers University, performing research on Endocrine Physiology, which led to his PhD in 1970.
His postdoctoral studies involved two fellowships, during which he was trained in Neuroendocrinology and Neuropharmacology of aging. The first was in the Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development at Duke University College of Medicine and the second was in the lab of Paola Timiras in the University of California at Berkeley.
Dr. Walker has held academic positions in four US Universities, namely Clemson University, Sanders-Brown Research Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, Medical College of Pennsylvania, and the University of South Florida College of Medicine.
Based on his prolific work in research, teaching and administrative duties, he was twice awarded tenure. Furthermore, he has been a recipient of many federal (NSF, NIH, DoD), state and local research grants and has published extensively in peer-reviewed scientific journals. He retired as a Professor of Biochemistry at the University of South Florida, in 1990.
A Career in the Pharmaceutical Industry and Private Sector
In parallel, he has served in the pharmaceutical industry, at a director level position in research and development at SmithKline Beecham, Inc.
After his retirement, he founded a private consulting firm and currently provides consulting services to physicians and health care practitioners regarding holistic and anti-aging medicine.
Moreover, he is Editor in Chief of the peer-reviewed academic journal, “Clinical Interventions in Aging”, of Dove Medical Press. He is a partner and the scientific director of Prosoma, a company that produces and distributes anti-aging supplements.
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Research and Scientific Achievements
During his early academic steps, Dr. Richard Walker worked on thyroid function and hormone synthesis in animals. In the following years, he published several papers on mechanisms of neurotransmitter release, the function of antidepressant drugs and inflammation in the context of aging.
However, since 1990 his career focused on growth hormones and their implication in aging. For more than 25 years he published extensively on growth hormone releasing peptides (GHRPs) and similar molecules, as an alternative for exogenous administration of synthetic growth hormone releasing hormone (GHRH). He conducted preclinical studies on the safety and efficacy of these drugs, paying particular attention on sex differences during aging.
Importantly, in 1995 his attention shifted towards clinical population and wrote a critical review on the administration of growth hormone in children. From the early 2000s, he focused on safety and efficacy of growth hormone replacement therapy. He wrote numerous research papers, book chapters and reviews targeted to physicians and healthcare professionals. His efforts helped to clarify important practical and ethical issues and provide scientifically documented answers. Much of his work was dedicated to Sermorelin, a drug approved for adult-onset growth hormone insufficiency.
During the latest steps of his career, he led the characterization of a rare, previously unknown syndrome. Originally he focused on this syndrome as it results in extreme developmental delay and retention of juvenile characteristics into adulthood. Therefore, he thought that it could unravel the mysteries of aging and indicate potential targets to delay it.
After the description of a case study in 2009 and the media coverage, several families with children suffering from similar symptoms reached out, in order to expand current knowledge on the disease and its underlying causes. Almost a decade of academic studies allowed Dr. Richard Walker and his colleagues to characterize this novel syndrome, which they named Neotenic Complex Syndrome (NCS).
Accumulated evidence from 7 independent confirmed cases helped them to clinically and genetically describe NCS. Whole genome sequencing of the patients showed that there is no single gene mutation associated with NCS. However, patients presented de novo mutations in genes related to transcription regulation, primarily through histone modification. Importantly, the study showed that NCS is not caused by a delay in the rate of aging, which could lead to extended lifespan. Instead, the research suggests that NCS is associated with changes in the developmental process and reveals connections with Autism Spectrum Disorder. However, as the authors suggest, more research must be done in order to validate their findings.
A Vision for Transparent and Applied Science
Science for Everyone
Dr. Richard Walker is a strong supporter of Open Access Science, meaning that academic journals should not charge a fee to provide a scientific article. During an interview for Dove Press he explained the benefits of scientific articles being available to clinical practitioners:
“I think this is a great move (Open Access journals) forward in providing a means for the academic and the scientist to speak to the practitioner. In many cases, as I said before, information is sequestered in journals that are generally not reviewed by people in practice. They don’t have access to MEDLINE, perhaps, or PubMed and sometimes are loath to buy a multitude of these papers, whereas Open Access gives them a free ability to check what’s going on currently in academic medicine and see if any of that information is relevant to their practice.
I would say that in addition to making… we’re using a political term now … a greater transparency of information from the laboratory to the public in general, Open Access provides this conveyance.”
Transforming Clinical Practices
His goal is to bridge the gap between academic findings and physician’s everyday practices. He firmly believes that scientific advances should be readily accessible to clinical practitioners and physicians, who should use these novel findings to update their practices. Furthermore, he encourages practitioners to participate in professional educational programs and seminars, organized by their colleagues in research and practice. When clinical practices are based on experimentally validated scientific evidence, rather than empirical observations, efficient anti-aging strategies can be developed. (Walker, Clinical Intervention in Aging, 2006 a)
Toward these goals, he co-founded an international organization, called the Society for Applied Research in Aging (SARA), and set Clinical Interventions of Aging as its official scientific journal. In 2005 he organized the kick-off meeting of the Society, which was held in parallel with a scientific symposium that attracted experts in aging from a broad spectrum of fields. The forum was a success and allowed the review of current practices, as well as the presentation of novel findings. Furthermore, it gave the opportunity to discuss controversial aspects of clinical strategies regarding age-related therapeutics. (Walker, Clinical Intervention in Aging 2006 b)
Dr. Walker strongly supports the spread of academic knowledge in the society. To this end, he has also written a popular book named “Why we age: Insight into the cause of growing old”, published in 2013 by Dove Medical Press. The book is targeted for a non-academic audience and presents the most prominent scientific theories on the biological causes of aging. Moreover, in the book Dr. Walker explains novel theoretical approaches on the mechanisms of aging, which emerge based on new experimental findings. Dr. Walker’s book has received positive critiques both for its content and readability, and is suggested as a primer for everyone who seeks a basic introduction on the biology of aging.
For more than 50 years, Dr. Richard Walker has served science in many ways. His research has advanced the field of hormonal regulation of aging and contributed to the development of novel anti-aging strategies using substances that regulate growth hormone. He held several administrative positions in US universities and was awarded tenure twice. After his retirement as a Professor, he continued his scientific work as a consultant, an Editor in Chief for an academic journal and a founding member of the Society for Applied Research in Aging (SARA). Undoubtedly, his lifetime work has made an impact in the field of aging, both for academia and clinical practice.